Review: The Understudy

For Josh Harper, being in show-business means everything he ever wanted – money, fame, a beautiful wife, and a lead role on the London stage. For Stephen C. McQueen, it means a disastrous career playing passers-by and dead people.

Stephen is stuck with an unfortunate name, a hopeless agent, a daughter he barely knows, and a job as understudy to Josh Harper, the 12th Sexiest Man in the World. And when Stephen falls in love with Josh’s clever, funny wife Nora, things get even more difficult.

But might there yet be a way for Stephen to get his Big Break?

My father bought me David Nicholl’s Starter for Ten when I first went to University. Being as it was about somebody else going to Uni, it was appropriate, and there was a film coming with starring James McAvoy. I try to make a habit of reading the books films are based on before seeing the film. It was funny, and cringe-worthy and bleak. And refreshing it being all that.

Then I read One Day a few years ago. A book group choice? I can’t really remember. Anyway. I loved it, mostly because it broke my heart so damn much.

I bought The Understudy because I had a five hour train journey and no knitting. 2 for 1 in WHSmith. It’s fraternal purchase was City of Bones which we’ll get to later. I read the whole book on the train journey (just as I’d read the whole of The Ocean at the End of the Lane) on the outgoing journey.

It was very similar to Starter for Ten, in it’s funny, cringe-worthy-ness. No tears with this one, but sometimes I came close out of sheer embarrassment for the characters. Nicholls has a knack for creating terribly inadequate characters who are (or at some point in the book) failing at life. It’s not the kind of romantic comedy where everyone gets what they want in the end and lives happily ever after. It’s the kind of romantic comedy that you think might actually happen to you. Except you won’t be nearly as witty as any of the characters.

This makes it really easy to identify with, but also unbearably depressing, as any reflection of life is. It’s funny, but whenever you laugh, it’s like you’ve just laughed at someone who just fell out of their wheelchair.

All that makes it sound like a terrible book. It’s not as good as the latter two, but it has style and the awkwardness is actually tremendously appealing, in a masochistic kind of way.


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