Review: ‘About a Boy’, Nick Hornby

This review  is the first that feels a little like cheating because I had actually seen bits of the film on TV, about 10 years ago. All I could remember before starting the novel is that Hugh Grant’s in the film and so’s that guy who went on to be in Skins (I think?). So my memory didn’t spoil it for me and I won’t spoil it for you.

My copy of About a Boy is courtesy of a university I considered attending long enough that they sent me free things. The parcel contained a letter from Nick Hornby advising that every misstep is not, in retrospect, a misstep (coincidentally I have been clinging to this notion since I decided not to go to university). The book itself follows that concept, predominantly through its two protagonists, Will and Marcus. Will has a life most of us live at the weekends. 30-ish and unattached all but the Countdown schedule, he spends days inside cafes and hours in front of the television, and has a work/life balance of pretty much 0% work and 100% chilling out. Marcus, a 12-year-old boy who’s just moved to London with his mum, has a happiness/life balance of about 30/70.

I can’t tell you how Will and Marcus meet, because it’s one of the funniest parts of the story, and I can’t really tell you too much about the supporting characters, because a lot of them hinge around the plot too. I can tell you that the novel contains a dead duck, Kurt Cobain, Christmas songs and some hilarious one liners that made me miss being 12. (Petition to start allowing adults to say exactly what they think just as much as children.)

Review: 'About a Boy' by Nick Hornby

 

The story takes place in the 1990s, and it would be quite different if it were set today (who are the 2010s equivalent of Nirvana?!). It was nice to read something that didn’t mention Facebook, actually, but my favourite thing about the book is that the two protagonists are about as different as two people could get while having quite a lot in common, and it was the alternating of points of view that turned the book into a very gripping story. There are a lot of ironic moments, and a lot of sad moments, because Will is judging Marcus at exactly the same time as Marcus is judging Will. All the characters are quite normal people you would expect to meet out and about, so of course they are actually all bonkers and more fun to read about than most superheroes. So go read.


 

My previous reviews are here; you can support my work by funding me on Patreon every time I review a book here.

Review: ‘Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe’, Benjamin Alire Sáenz

This is a spoiler-free review except for the bits you can guess from the title.

Oh look, something else I originally saw on Tumblr, probably courtesy of feistiest. You know how they say you should never judge a book by its cover, but we all do? With this, the cover – by  Chloë Foglia -made me want to get the book. Look at that typography and those colours and those illustrations this is going to be a beautiful novel.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe from Wikipedia.org
I couldn’t find a cover that wasn’t covered in award stickers. This is from Wikipedia. Look at that night sky.

It is a beautiful novel.

Like the best books, the action starts from the very first sentence, so I can’t tell you too much background information without spoiling the story, but the title pretty much implies the premise: a guy called Aristotle meets a guy called Dante and together they discover the secrets of the universe/survive their teenage years. Set in El Paso, Texas, across a couple of years in the 1980s, the novel is a lot like The Perks of Being a Wallflower in that it could have been set last week and will be devoured by teenage readers for decades to come (it was actually published in 2012).

I had never heard of Benjamin Alire Sáenz before I read this – and I am definitely pronouncing his name terribly wrong – but I think he is a writer I would like to read more of, because Aristotle and Dante, and Aristotle and Dante, are wonderfully written. Some topics are quite hard to cover without sounding like a textbook or news story – again, I can’t really tell you what they are without wrecking the plot – but it’s funny, occasionally irreverent and often slightly uncomfortable. The whole book is just like seeing inside someone’s head, which is so hard to achieve as a writer and so satisfying for the reader.

It also won a handful of awards, which is nice because it’s quite rare to find a critically acclaimed novel that’s also fun – I finished it in an evening. If you liked The Perks of Being a Wallflower, if you’re interested in what it was like to live in Texas in the 1980s (I wasn’t but now I am), if you’re interested in Mexican culture, if you like scruffy dogs (it is not a spoiler to tell you there is a scruffy dog), if you like boys with long names and books with pretty covers, go find a copy and curl up for an evening with Ari and Dante and watch them discover the secrets of the universe.

None of them are about the science of life on earth, by the way. I did originally wonder if it was a story about physicists.


My previous reviews are here; you can support my work on Patreon every time I review here.

Review: ‘Persuasion’, Jane Austen

If you are aware of Jane Austen’s work, you may have noticed a trend of intelligent women, social comedy and weddings. I will not be spoiling this particular novel by saying that Persuasion is no exception.

Turns out I have a reading list, and, weirdly, quite a bit of what I’ve read so far is on it. I thought Persuasion was too, but it turns out that it was actually Sense and Sensibility. I’ll do that one too.

Persuasion starts with the lovely if socially-ambitious Elliot family, whose daughter Anne is the main character. Eight years before the novel starts, Anne was persuaded by well-meaning relatives to abandon her engagement with a lowly (read: neither rich nor titled) gentleman named Frederick Wentworth.

When we meet her, Anne is 27 and basically preparing for life as a spinster. Because who would marry a 27-year old god look at those wrinkles. Within a chapter or two, Anne’s family have been forced to move to Bath and rent out the family home to an Admiral, because they have approached their finances with the air of ‘spend for the person you want to be, not the person you are’. Some things never change, huh.

But wait. Who should be acquainted with the Admiral and his family but Frederick, whom Anne has never really stopped loving despite trampling on his socially-inferior heart… What’s more, has Frederick been bumming around these past eight years claiming benefits? No, he joined the navy and rose to the rank of Captain.

I think that is a big deal.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Anne spends the next few hundred pages despairing of her hypochondriac sister, her accident-prone in-laws and her mangy cousin, and tries not to freak out about how hot Frederick still is. Which is hot. Plus he knows how to drive boats across the Atlantic wearing a funny hat. (That’s not a direct quote.)

Do they get married? Does the mangy cousin stop being mangy? Will I have to read the novel again, as I did Pride and Prejudice, to fully absorb Austen’s sharp humour? Should you read this novel if you’re a fan of that Colin Firth Mr Darcy scene which isn’t even in that novel?

Oh, the literary questions.


 

My previous reviews are here; you can support my work on Patreon every time I review here.