Posted by: Corri van de Stege | May 14, 2014

Book Club reading: Michael Frayn and David Nicholls

I’ve joined a book club and this means that you get to reread some golden oldies or perhaps read books that would not be top of your reading list. At the same time, a book club is a social activity and members tend to be avid readers and want to share their views. The last two months we’ve read books that I had read before but, I realise, never reviewed on my blog. So here they go:

1) Skios by Michael Frayn

Skios

2) One Day by David Nicholls

One Day David Nicholls

My views:

I must say I much preferred rereading the David Nicholl’s book. I was irritated reading Skios the first time, when it had just come out and was considered for the Booker Prize long list for 2012,  and this sense of impatience did not improve on the second reading. I have always wondered how the book ended up on the long list, it seemed so shallow and superficial even though it has a saving grace in that some of the conversations are imaginative and the writing is very fluent. However, as some reviewers at the time commented, it’s one of those books that you might find hilarious when your critical faculties are down, similar to viewing a Christmas special on Boxing Day when you’ve had too much cold turkey and alcohol. I must add that other reviewers considered it a master piece. I didn’t even find it funny on Boxing Day, too far-fetched, too many misunderstandings and tiresome unbelievable situations. Enough said.

Rereading Nicholls’ One Day was more interesting and I did some background search on how he came to write this book. Apparently Nichols spent a summer in Edinburgh twenty years before he wrote One Day and he claims that it is really about his love affair with Edinburgh, rather than a story that is based on a particular woman. And it is true, the book often refers back to Emma and Dex’s first encounter in Edinburgh and gives us kind of romantic and postcard version of the city.

Reading it for the second time I knew what was going to happen and although I felt a bit impatient at times and sometimes even a bit bored that should not stop anyone from reading it. I think it is an excellent, witty, painful, and true to life and very well written book. The author follows all the rules of good writing: there’s very little telling and lots of exposition or showing. This comes through the conversations as well as by letting his characters think out loud.  For example, rather than saying someone has a hangover, we are told that his head hurts and he has a metallic taste in his mouth, is parched and hungrier than he has ever been before (p.130). Also, perspiration has gone sour, there’s an unmistakable alcoholic stench, etc.  You’re always there with the characters, you feel what they feel, you smell what they smell and you taste what they taste.

It’s a brilliant book about Emma and Dex, two graduates from Edinburgh university. The trick of the book is that it touches base with them on 15th July every year, the date of their graduation when they meet each other.

Dexter is the lay about, the yuppie who after travelling abroad for a year tries to develop his glamorous career as a TV presenter, he comes across as shallow and perhaps immature, has numerous flings and disastrous relationships, drinks too much, does drugs and in the end he is the loser, but is also someone who never loses his attractiveness to women. He lives in his time, for example in his late twenties he is totally drunk and on drugs most of the time and he is struck by how easy conversations are when no-one is in their right mind: (P.108), “…these days it’s possible to segue almost immediately from ‘what’s your name’ to ‘show me your tattoo’, say or ‘what underwear are you wearing?’ and surely this has got to be progress.”

Emma on the other hand, has a first class degree and has dreams and ambitions and although it seems that she is not going to get anywhere at first and she decides to become a teacher. She also has a few failed relationships, a boyfriend who is a standup comedian and with whom she lives for a while in a flat they buy together and when they break up she has a tedious relationship with the headmaster of the school she works in.

Emma’s character is sardonic but also soft-hearted, wry and lovable, and she is so very fond of Dexter. Dexter is a show-off, someone who is successful basically because of his good looks and his middle class, posh, accent. But there is another side to Dexter as well, his love for his mother. He thinks that (p.27) “everyone he had ever met was in love with Alison Mayhew, and the best of it was that he really liked his father too; as in so many things, he had all the luck.

If you have not read it yet, just go and get a copy and enjoy.

 

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