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.
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.