Fiction schmiction

One Day - David Nicholls

One Day - David Nicholls

Occasionally people look surprised when I say I don’t read fiction.  This seems entirely sensible to me.  They make it up, you know.  It’s not actually true. It also tends to be drearily written and about people who are unpleasant or dull or both.  Why would I want to spend a few days of my life in their company?

Case in point: I made an exception and bought a copy of One Day: Twenty Years Two People by David Nicholls.

Little Miss Gullible, I chose it based in part on the reviews quoted in the inside.

One Day - Reviews

One Day - Reviews

One Day - More Reviews

One Day - More Reviews

It’s an interesting conceit, to look at a snapshot of two peoples lives on the anniversary of the same day every year. This appealed to me because I am quietly pleased about the richness and multi-dimensionality which is the gift of getting older. And Mary Wesley and Molly Keane have used the long perspective rather well.

Unfortunately it’s shite.

Thank goodness, the publishers, the puffers and the reviewers who say how absolutely fabulous the emperor looks in his lovely clothes don’t fool all of the people all of the time. Two recent opinion pieces make my point for me more generically and with more authority.

… these days  more or less the only novels allowed to be primarily humorous are chick-lit and lad-lit, and these tend to be gurglingly inane – not the kind of intelligent wit you’d formerly get from Waugh or Kingsley Amis … If you want to be “taken seriously”, you apparently have to be serious, or, more accurately, joyless. – Michael Deacon in the Telegraph


Reading Barnes, like reading so many other English writers of his generation – Martin Amis, McEwan – leaves me feeling that I and the world have been made smaller and meaner. … I wonder, though, where it came from, this petty-bourgeois uptightness, this terror of not being in control, this schoolboy desire to boast and to shock. – Gabriel Josipovici quoted in the Guardian.

I’m with Deacon, though, I want to be intelligently amused.  But alas, One Day, despite being “the funniest, loveliest book” (according to Jenny Colgan) is dreary, demeaning and dull.  The hero is a shallow and selfish and though we are told the heroine is clever and sexy she’s neither of those things on the page.  At one point the narrator comments what wonderful fun times they had together, but are we ever shown them?  Are we hell. The narrative arc comprises the heroine moving from needy to not quite so needy while the hero becomes more and more of a shit.

Dreariness can be excused if you learn something about the human condition. But these two are tediously adolescent throughout. Someone should tell David Nicholls that self-conciousness is not self-awareness. Hero and heroine never relax in each others’ company, they both have the sort of snide inner-observer which adults only release into their minds when they are drunk.


It’s back to the non-fiction shelves for me.

14 responses to “Fiction schmiction

  1. Haven’t read it myself but the big red flag for me is that Tony Parsons liked it.

  2. I tend to be very similar in that I rarely buy fiction books. I bought a book called “The Strain” on my holiday in Germany which was terrible, so I will agree with you in that case.

    However there are some novels that were simply wonderful, possibly my favourite being To Kill a Mockingbird.

  3. I really enjoy *good* fiction, but there is a lot of bad fiction out t here. I suppose chick-lit which doesn’t say anything but is amusing is the equivelent of chocolate. There are authors that have made me think and stay with me. I’ve just read Independent People by Hallador Laxness, which was both amusing and thought provoking. But there’s an awful lot of dross!

  4. Glad I’m not the only person who doesn’t like this book! What you say about it is quite right.

  5. Theodore Sturgeon said it: 90% of everything is crud. The trick is filtering out the 10% *before* you’ve read it.

    In theory, this should be easier than ever in the age of the internet. Where once you’d simply avoid anything written by Ben Elton since Blackadder or anything recommended by Paul Ross, nowadays you can, in theory, form a complex web of recommenders to whose opinions you attach different weights depending on how closely their taste matches yours.

    To my knowledge, nobody is offering such a service. What we get instead is aggregator review sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Amazon, which bring us the lowest common denominator view of everything. According to the former, the best movie ever made is Toy Story 2. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but the BEST?? Ever?

    Of course, I could just be an ignorant old git, and there could be a webservice out there which would allow me to read a review of something, and indicate my agreement or otherwise with it on a scale of 1 to 10. There’d be a section for fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, films, music, TV shows, magazines, websites…
    Read ten reviews of things you already know about in each genre, indicate your agreement level with them, then the site automatically adjusts your preferences. You agree 10% with reviewer A on film, so you can safely disregard her opinions. You agree 90% with reviewer B on comic books, so if a new graphic novel comes out and he likes it, it’s worth a punt.

    Is someone doing this already?

  6. Pingback:

  7. It’s an interesting question, Z, “what is ‘good’ fiction?”. I actually quite like chick-lit if it’s well done, but it’s definitely chocs-and-a-duvet, not a day’s-hiking-followed-by-pie-and-chips.

    Yay for us Bookmouse! Like you, I’m glad it’s not just me.

    Surely weighted recommendations are just a matter of time, SoRB? In fact, isn’t this how iTunes Genius works?

    But you’re right. It would be good for books. On the subject of which, you might like this what I just bought – (people who like The Watchmen and Lost Girls also like… etc).

    Cheers all, for reading and commenting.


  8. I think weighted recommendations are not a matter of time, because if they were, someone would already have done it. There’s no technological barrier to it. It just seems to me that the trend has been to review aggregation along the Rotten Tomatoes/Amazon model, rather than a personalised one. I think it’s a matter of someone other than me, specifically with the tech-savvy to actually implement it, to have the idea.

    I worry that the weakness of the idea lies in the independence of the reviewers, in that once you’ve indicated your close agreement with a particular reviewer’s tastes, they then have a big influence over what you get exposed to. On the other hand, if a reviewer recommends you something and you don’t like it, it would be the work of seconds to indicate your declining trust in their opinion.

    Ultimately, now we’re substantially all online, I’m guessing there must be someone out there who, if asked to name their favourite 100 books/films/comics/songs would name 95 of the same ones as me. I want a website that enables me to find that person, and most importantly to find out what the other five are. And to repeat that exercise for the no doubt dozens and dozens of other people who fit that profile.

    Fundamentally the mechanic is exactly the same as a dating site. You have a 98% match with ComicBookDan, do you want to see the 2% discrepancy? Hell yeah! You could call it “TasteDating”. It’s the perfect dating experience, in that you don’t ever actually meet any other humans, you just get excellent recommendations for things to read/watch/listen to.

    The people running the site would make money selling the things in the discrepancy. You wouldn’t even have to sell them particularly cheap, either, because they’d be coming with a money-back guarantee that you’d like them. There’d also be a nominal subscription. I’d pay a couple of quid a month if I thought I was never ever going to buy a book, film or album that I didn’t love again.

    The more I think about it the more I wonder why someone isn’t already doing it.

    • >> You have a 98% match with ComicBookDan, do you want to see the 2% discrepancy? Hell yeah!

      I get it. 🙂

      I’m not sure if it would be cool or creepy though. And I bet foldies it would become a dating site for lit-geeks. Any geeks, really.


  9. It wouldn’t need to be exclusively geeks. Two people might express identical taste in Hello magazine, Big Brother, Eastenders and Jeffrey Archer novels.

    Seriously, someone should start this site. Know anyone who could?

    • Librarything almost does it. If I used it properly, with tags and ratings, it probably would. (I just use it to keep track of which box any given book is stored in at the moment). Have you hung out there at all?

      Its recommendations for me are are depressingly skewed by books from my teens and 20s, not to mention the sheer bloody number of books written by Georgette Heyer and Terry Pratchett . I find the recommendations by date view more interesting.

      They have a lot of other ways of slicing the data of course – check out the recommendations section but don’t judge me too harshly on the sheer volume of teenage and light fiction. I’ve still got dresses with shoulder-pads in my wardrobe and my grandmother’s milk pan in my kitchen.


  10. Happy New Year To All Cheers.

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