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Starter for Ten

Hodder & Stoughton, 2003
Paperback $21.00

David Nicholls’s first novel, Starter for Ten, has recently been made into a movie starring James McAvoy (who played "Mr Tumnus" in the Narnia film).

The book is a good-natured British romantic comedy narrated by Brian Jackson, a first-year English Literature student, who has ambitions to be on the cult TV Quiz Show "University Challenge" and to also win the heart of aristocratic drama student, Alice Harbinson.

At the beginning of the story, Brian is living with his widowed mother in a working-class town and spending quality down-time with his rough old school-mates, Tone and Spencer.

The author, David Nicholls, wrote in The Guardian newspaper (31 October 2006) that university had been the highlight of his life: "I loved everything about it: the books, the debates, the politics, the people especially.

For me it was a kind of benign, floppy-haired national service." His nostalgia for 1980s campus life is palpable – with affectionate references to the early music of Kate Bush, the politics of nuclear disarmament, and, of course, the college tribalism of "University Challenge".

The story occasionally takes predictable televisual twists (not surprising given the author’s screenwriting credentials), but overall leads to a satisfying solution to the tertiary challenges of love, class and mateship.

As ‘lad-lit’, Starter for Ten is not as dark or edgy as a novel by Nick Hornby or Nick Earls, but it does take the predisposed reader into similarly enjoyable territory. I’m looking forward to seeing the film.

Reviewed by Mark Young