I'll have a P please Bamber

I recently finished reading "Starter for Ten" by David Nicholls. I first heard about the book after watching a documentary on BBC4 about the history of the campus novel, where the author was one of the talking heads. Since I'd heard of or read most of the others featured in the piece (Amis, Bradbury, Lodge, Brodge, etc.), I was curious to see what he had done, and tracked the book down on Amazon. It had pretty good reviews, and although it hasn't been officially released in the US, I was able to order a copy from a second hand store through z-shops for a few bucks. It arrived soon after and, somewhat to my surprise turned out to be a signed copy (with no dedication though). Either that, or someone else has scrawled "David Nicholls" on the frontispiece for no particular reason.

It's quite a good book. I won't say too much specific about the book itself, you can read it (or the reviews of amazon for that). Although I did enjoy it for the most part, I really didn't like the ending all that much; it wasn't sufficiently unambiguously redemptive for the fact that the protagonist is increasingly idiotic and self-absorbed throughout. Perhaps it's a mark of success that I cared about the characters sufficently to feel short-changed by an ending based around a carefully choreographed piece of weak farce. The clunky coda set the balance a little straight, I suppose.

What I did find most interesting is that it made me very nostalgic, not for my own undergraduate days, but for a time before then: it was very reminiscent of how I imagined University life would be like. The reality was quite different, considerably less melodrama and angst, but also a lot less awkwardness and pratfalls. I'd contrast it with the other campus novel that I read earlier this year, Five Point Someone. The setting could not be more different (an IIT versus an unspecified British university), yet the themes are familiar: coming of age, academic failings and pining for a girl. They even culminate in a similar way: a climactic act of transgression. 5PS is less well written, and has fewer stand out comedy sections in comparison to SF10, but the ending is gentler and more upbeat. I must just be a big softie at heart.

I had to finish reading SF10 since I learn that there is a film version due out any minute now, and I didn't want to be spoiled by clips from the film. I'm quite curious to see how it turns out, to see how a medium length book covering the crucial first six months of university will get clipped down to a crisp 90 minutes. There's also the perennial question of how the fairly well painted characters will translate onto the screen. The casting choices are interesting, mostly because through some weird coincidence or design, the two main female parts are being played by actresses who share the same name as the character they play, and who are daughters of famous theatrical figures (check out the movie page on IMDB for more information). People have been talking about the film somewhat excitedly, as if this could be the next four weddings and a funeral. Someohow, I think it's just as likely that it will be the next Inbetweeners. What, you don't remember Inbetweeners? A fairly insignificant piece of university based fluff that may never have received a theatrical release but sneaked out on to a limited video release; notable solely for the cameo of Johnny Ball as a doddering lecturer; production values notably inferior to G103. Yes, of course I've seen it. I still have a copy on VHS lodged in a secure location in Kent, and might even get around to rewatching it at Christmas time if I have nothing better to do.

The main plot of the book (and presumably film) centres around University Challenge. I sometimes wish that I had a tame American conveniently to hand, so that I could show them the episodes of the show that I covertly acquire. I think the idea of a programme consisting solely of two teams of university students trying to answer relatively obscure questions about the arts and science would befuddle them. "But... where are the scorpions? The sound effects? The prominent sponsorship deals? The attractive ladies in skimpy attire? The million dollar prizes?..." they would gibber in plain disbelief that such a show could survive for more than twelve seconds without being cancelled.

For those unfamiliar with this bizarre British institution, then why not check out this helpful clip of the show on YouTube, taken from the recent retrospective documentary, Time Trumpet. It doesn't really explain anything about the quiz, but does at least partially explain why for the last month I've been wandering around muttering "Venezuela, Venezuela?" to myself in a silly nasal voice.

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