The Understudy by David Nicholls

A quick rundown… Stephen C. McQueen is an unlucky guy – unlucky in love, unlucky in living and unlucky to be the understudy of one of the hottest British actors. Things turn for the worse when he falls in love with that actor’s wife.

Strengths: Funny in parts.

Weaknesses: Stephen is a helpless, awkward kind of character.

Why I read it: Loved both Starter for Ten and One Day.

Pages: 406

Published: 2005

Publisher: Hodder

Setting: England

Rating: 7 out of 10

If you liked this, try: Nick Hornby’s novels

I read The Understudy not long after Starter for Ten. (Both these books arrived damaged from Australia Post in transit and got absolutely saturated with some kind of liquid, hopefully water). However, I digress. The problem with reading these two books in such quick succession was that The Understudy lost the quirky charm I felt for Brian in Starter for Ten because Stephen in this book is of a very similar mould.

I could probably cut and paste from my other review in the description of Stephen, but I won’t for you, the reader because I’d like you to stay awake for the next few minutes. Stephen is an actor who hasn’t made the big time – yet. (Naturally, he believes it’s right around the next corner). Despite his previous claims to fame as a squirrel and a dead body, Stephen is currently understudying England’s hottest actor, Josh, in a play on the West End. Stephen is cringeworthy most of the time, with bad jokes and an awkward manner with his ex-wife, her new husband, daughter and pretty much everyone. While it was plausible in 18 year old Brian of Starter for Ten, the loser, hopeless style of Stephen is harder to take as an adult. He’s a bit dorky and a bit lame with the slapstick events that seem to unfold all around him).

Despite Stephen’s misgivings, he manages to fall in love with Josh’s wife, Nora. And she seems to like him back. Nora is a much more spikier character – she has an interesting history and a lot more spine than Stephen. Josh is your typical ‘sexiest male’ actor – he likes the ladies and they like him. While we get to know the character of Stephen all too well, we don’t learn so much about the other characters.

I found the plot fairly interesting (not many books are set around a play) but the ending could be summarised as meh. It doesn’t really do anywhere or lead to any promise. You’re not left wondering about the characters and what will happen next, which I think is fairly important for a book to rate as ‘good’. Unfortunately it’s not One Day, not even close. What a pity.

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