“A little strange and unsettling, like seeing Stalin on a skateboard”
Brian Jackson embarks on the great British coming-of-age adventure that is going to university. Desperate to honour his blue-collar father’s memory by making the University Challenge team, he is equipped with a grand array of general knowledge, but probably not sufficient social knowledge to cope with the beautiful blonde from Suffolk and the angry Glaswegian socialist, never mind with how his mates back home will treat him.
This bittersweet tale encompasses most of Brian’s first year at university, and has been made into a movie starring the lovely James McAvoy quite recently (I do wish that man would make a film with his proper Scottish accent).
My reaction to this book is very much in two parts – a reaction to the humour, and to the rest of it. I loved the humour – it’s that classic dry, awkward, self-deprecating, terribly British humour:
“The University Experience. I like the word experience. It makes it sound like a ride at Alton Towers”
“a sort of foppish, cavalier look that makes it almost look as if he’s mislaid his rapier”
“my digs look as if they’ve been dug”; “the room has the appeal and ambience of a murder scene”
The plot is pretty much exactly as in the film – Essex boy goes to university in undisclosed town (assumed to be Bath/Bristol/Reading), has first-year-type romantic misadventures, regularly has no money, gets on the University Challenge team, and Screws Up in rather dramatic fashion. I don’t have much to say about the plot because I saw the film so recently, but I kept turning the pages even though I knew what was going to happen (which must be a sign of good writing!), and Nicholls does nail the British University Experience:
“I suppose that posh-boys-in-drag must be one of the inevitable miseries of living in a university town.”
Sadly, yes, it is. An inevitable misery even just for other students.
“I want to hold passionate but reasoned debates around wooden kitchen tables, saying things like “define your terms” and “your premise is patently specious” and then suddenly discover that the sun’s come up and we’ve been talking all night”
I’ve done that – on New Year’s Eve just gone (so admittedly, after finishing uni) with uni friends and a wooden dining table; and several times at uni, usually in kitchens with no tables and dear friends who shall remain nameless gesticulating wildly with cooking implements while describing complex mathematical concepts and/or arguments for and against the existence of a deity.
Beside the point.
The characters are fun – I think Brian is a bit complex, but maybe I’m just not good at being inside the head of a 19-year-old boy. Alice and Rebecca are both well-constructed girls, and Patrick, Spencer and the various other cast members are all credible, angsty students/teenagers.
Clever writing and lots of fun.Additional info: I borrowed this from the library. Publisher: Flame, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton; 473 pp. Buy this from Amazon* * this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use these links, which goes towards giveaways.