Monday, 15 June 2015

103. Summer Book Club Week 1 Review - Starter for Ten by David Nicholls

Hello everyone! Firstly, I'd like to apologise as I did mention in my previous post that I would post this review yesterday. As I post a variety of things on Sundays usually, I thought I would mix it up and have my summer book club post on a Monday (if you have no idea what I mean by my summer book club, then read this).

The book for week 1 was Starter for Ten by David Nicholls, some of you may be familiar with one of his other novels, One Day and its film adaptation starring Anne Hathaway. I love One Day and strongly recommend it as it is one of my favourite books and films despite making me cry a lot. There is also a film adaptation of Starter for Ten as I Googled it yesterday and despite having an impressive cast including Benedict Cumberbatch (aww can't believe he's a dad), James Corden, James McAvoy and even Catherine Tate; from the trailer, it seems to be very loosely based on the book so think I'm going to give it a miss. If any of you have seen it, let me know what you thought!

Starter for Ten follows Brian, an English Literature student from Southend who is studying at what one assumes is a Russell Group institution. I can relate to Brian a fair bit having now completed my undergraduate degree, there are many characters in the book who I feel like I also met at university. Like myself, Brian is an only child and also lives with his mum only after his father passed way. Brian and his father used to watch University Challenge together (for those of you who aren't familiar with the show, it's basically two teams of 4 very intelligent students from various universities in the UK who compete on a televised general knowledge quiz show but the questions are much more difficult than your average quiz show) and his dad was really proud of Brian each time he got a question right so he is keen to make it onto the team once he arrives at university.

Alice Harbinson is a Drama student who has had a very different upbringing to Brian but like him, also sits the examination which determines who will be on the University Challenge team. Brian falls for Alice at first sight at a house party on their very first night at university even before they meet again at the exam. I found Starter for Ten to explore class and romance very well and although the book was published in 2003 and is set in the mid 1980s, there is a very obvious class divide at prestigious higher education institutes even today and I personally believe that not enough is being done to tackle this ugly truth. Another prominent female figure during Brian's time at university is Glaswegian Law student, Rebecca Epstein, who is the exact opposite of Alice. Both Alice and Rebecca stay in the same halls of residence corridor and Alice is unaware of just how much Rebecca despises her (it's pretty obvious all along that Rebecca hates Alice because she fancies Brian who is in love with Alice).

*SPOILER ALERT* University Challenge team captain, Patrick is so pompous and self-righteous and makes some very nasty comments about both Brian and Spencer who is Brian's best friend from home. I'm not one to condone violence but when both Brian and Spencer hit Patrick on separate occasions, I felt no sympathy for him.  Patrick reminds me very much of Percy Weasley and is definitely a character that you love to hate. Right before the ending, Brian makes a huge error and it is so shocking that I had to stop reading and hugged my teddies in shock as I was rooting for him so much and then out of nowhere, he fell at the very last hurdle. I felt so bad for him and if any of you think you have had an embarrassing moment, trust me, it's nothing compared to what happens to Brian (I understand that none of this makes any sense but don't want to ruin the surprise for anyone who wants to read Starter for Ten). Another part of the book that I enjoyed was the very end because Brian ends up with the right person and I'm glad he is brave enough to make a fresh start as many people I know who disliked their course at university, stick it out whilst getting very depressed about it. Also, I love the actual layout of the book with a University Challenge question at the start of each chapter and the actual book being divided into 5 sections like the 5 rounds of each episode of the show.

Starter for Ten did leave me with some questions, ironically. I wish we'd found out more about Rebecca Epstein because I felt that too much of the book was devoted to Alice. Brian's obsession with Alice reminded me of Pat's obsession with Nikki in Silver Linings Playbook but as Pat was mentally ill, he had a valid excuse. Also, there were hints of some fatherly love being displayed by one of Brian's tutors, Professor Morrison and I wish this relationship had been been explored further and it would have made it more realistic for Brian to ask for his tutor's advice too regarding his academic issues at least.

Overall, I would give Starter for Ten 4/5 as although the book centres mostly around a love triangle, there are some other important issues explored mentioned above making it relatable to many young adults despite being set 30 years ago. It is definitely a good coming of age novel and by having University Challenge as a major theme, it makes it unique.

The Establishment by Owen Jones is the book for week 2 of my summer book club so I will see you all next Monday with a review post for it. Also, Ramadhan Mubarak to all my Muslim readers as I probably won't have the chance to post again before Thursday.

Until next time, take care.

Mancunian Sheep x