David Nicholls’s previous two novels, “Starter for Ten” and “One Day” have both been made into moderately successful films, so I don’t think it is being overly cynical to conclude that the setting for this novel – a series of European capitals and art galleries – was at least in part influenced by the author’s anticipation of sealing another film deal. Once you open with that cynicism, it is hard to stop. But I think you should. OK, the chapters are all extremely short, designed I suspect for the attention deficient, but the principal character, Douglas, who is also our narrator, is not an endearing character. He is a bore, and a bit of a bully. He is inattentive towards his wife, and positively negligent of his 17 year old son. He knows he has traded up in marrying his artistic wife, and never overcomes that expectation that sooner or later she is going to realise it too.
And so it comes to pass, when shortly before their son leaves for university, and it is suggested, for good, his wife announces apropos of nothing, that she wants to leave him. In a desperate, if photogenic, attempt to save his marriage he takes her on the tour mentioned above, although for reasons hard to imagine he thinks it is a good idea to take their son as well. The tour goes badly from the off, and never recovers.
I thought I knew how this novel would end, long before it did, and I was wrong. Nicholls avoids the cliched happy ending, and quite possibly forfeits the film deal I cynically accused him of engineering earlier. (Although if it does translate to film then they will probably rewrite the ending.)
This is pretty undemanding stuff, not quite chick-lit (or whatever the male equivalent is) but not many steps up either. Nicholls writes quite slowly, so I won’t have to make the decision as to whether to bother with his next novel for a while yet, but if I had to make it today I’d look for something a bit more challenging.