‘Starter for Ten’ by David Nicholls

Is it possible to love a book, yet hate the main character? I believe so.

William M. Thackeray proved it in Vanity Fair and I found another example in Starter For Ten. Well, I know, the two novels have a very different social and cultural impact and only one of them will be remembered in the decades for being a masterpiece, but it proves my point anyway.

‘Starter for Ten’ refers to a famous catchphrase from the Tv Show University Challenge, where students from two different universities battle one against another. Weapon of choice: knowledge. Starter for Ten is nothing but a question that, if answered correctly, gives the team a chance for a streak of questions worth ten points.

Of course, when I bought the book, I have no idea what that meant. I  was barely even aware of the existence of such a show.

But you know what? This was David Nicholls’ first novel and I decided that if he had written it, then I certainly wanted to read it.

Luckily, it’s not an ode to the Tv Show. Instead, it’s a careful description of the struggle of a young man on his first year at University.

What’s the struggle in it?

Well, Brian Jackson is a working class kid, with a working class mum, working class friends, and a working class bursary to attend university.

All around him there are middle class kids, with middle class parents, middle class friends, and pocket-money on top of the university fee.

It doesn’t sound like much, but it makes all the difference.

And when Brian Jackson falls in love with Alice Harbinson, his University Challenge team-mate, things get even more complicated, because not always a little general knowledge is enough to do the trick and hide his empty pockets.

It’s probably not the book of the year, but rarely I have found such a consistency in characters and such an enjoyable read, despite the main character.

Yes, let’s not forget that. Brian Jackson has left me the impression of a wimpy kid, at least until he learns his lesson.

That would be a spoiler for you, though, so I won’t say anything else and just invite you to pick up the book and start reading…

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