Tuesday, 17 January 2012


If you want a new novel to read to banish the cold, dark January days, then look no further than 'The Understudy' by David Nicholls. It's funny, light hearted-and what I would call 'a jolly good read'. If you're after an intense, thought-provoking novel that requires a dictionary and a glossary of classical Greek mythology, then this is not for you. But if you wish to be entertained and to laugh out loud, then this novel is right up your street.

The plot is simple: Stephen C McQueen is an actor whose roles so far include playing a corpse in a TV crime drama, a squirrel in a children's video and understudy to the 12th sexiest man in the world, Josh Harper, in a stage play about Byron.

So, understandably, he is not totally happy with his lot, particularly as his divorced wife has married a boorishly rich man and he has a less than successful relationship with his daughter.

His misfortunes are compounded by the fact that when Josh invites him to his celebrity – infested party, it is to act as a waiter rather than as a guest. However, at the beginning of the party, Stephen meets Josh's feisty but vulnerable wife, Nora, and the two hit it off straight away. Stephen, naturally, falls in love with Nora and the novel is based around their developing relationship.

Of course, I'm not going to tell you how the novel ends but it is, in my opinion, a most satisfactory ending.

If I wanted to be picky, I would say that both Josh and Nora are presented in rather stereotypical ways. Josh may be handsome, highly successful, and by all accounts a very good actor, but he is a total bastard and is more than happy to cheat on his wife. Nora, on the other hand, is the beautiful American waitress whom Josh has catapulted into a high-profile world where money is no object. So, quite rightly, I detested Josh and really liked Nora. They may be stereotypical but they are interesting and fully developed as characters.

More interesting though, is the fact that Nicholls gives no clues as to what Stephen looks like, whether he is a good actor or not, and whether we should be rooting for him or consider him a walking accident. Therefore, we are given no indication as to how his relationship with Nora will end.

Perhaps the novel lacks variety of pace but that's not really a major problem. It's not easy to write a novel that makes people laugh, as I've commented on in previous posts, but Nicholls does that effortlessly and I shall certainly read his famous "One Day", which has been made into a film.

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