Then Stephen stumbles on a secret that puts Josh in his debt. In exchange for Stephen's silence, Josh might let him go on stage. It's a sticky situation, made even stickier by Stephen's special friendship with Josh's wife. Stephen has his first real chance at success, but getting there will involve a certain amount of lying. He's about to discover how good an actor he really is.
©2005 David Nicholls; (P)2005 HighBridge Company
"The follow-up to Nicholls' hilarious debut novel, A Question of Attraction, is a smart, funny, big-hearted romantic comedy." (Booklist, starred review)
I don't know if you have to be an actor to enjoy "The Understudy" but I imagine it helps. I loved it. Although it drags a bit at times, when the characters get to the good stuff (i.e., their love for acting), I was in heaven!
Stephen C. McQueen (no, not THAT Steve McQueen!) is understudying the brash matinee heartthrob Josh Harper, a philandering actor with a long-suffering American wife (Nora) with whom Stephen begins to fall in love. How Stephen gets a crack at assuming the lead role as well as perhaps win the heart of the neglected wife is the stuff novels are made of, and in this case wonderful novels!
The narrator gives nuance to all the characters and adds immensely to the overall success of this delightful story of acting, love and how the two intersect. The author, David Nicholls, knows his stuff!
The story was light and fun and the main character is very well drawn. The narration is excellent until the English reader attempts to do a female American accent. As an American female, I just wasn't buying it. Yet this narration actually won an award as an audio book, so some people obviously thought he did a good job.
But the story itself is fun and the male characters are truly believable as real people, which is pretty rare.
As you've probably seen in the other reviews, this novel centers around the life of an understudy actor. Not being an actor myself, the main thing I noted to identify with the character is that he's rather an underachieving slacker who seems to be in one of those "life slumps" that comes to most of us Gen-X'ers (30-somethings) at some point in our lives.
The difference here is the character is thoroughly likeable. He's a "nice guy" but not in that irritating way. It seems so many novels focus on outlandish characters or people who are unrealistically over-achieving. Or conversely, tragically underachieving to the point of Nil. But the whole tale has a "realistically optimistic" feel that I've only experienced previously in Nick Hornby novels like High Fidelity, About a Boy, and Long Way Down (all excellent, btw). At the end, you really want to know what happens to this guy, Stephen McQueen, in the future.
I won't go too deeply into the plot, but suffice it to say that there is romance, refreshingly from the male perspective. Conflict of dramatic effect and timing. Angst and very slight touches of despair. The character portrayals are consisten, realistic, and very well done. While Stephen is tame but lovable, he's surrounded by a cast that puts him in sharp contrast to good effect. The whole affair moves along pretty smartly... moreso as the story progresses. I thought the pacing was well done
British humo(u)r is present in excellent doses throughout and really makes for a wonderful experience. Frequently I found myself laughing out loud with a big grin across my face. Isn't that what we want from a book like this?
I really want to give this 4.5 stars because it's not QUITE up to the level of High Fidelity or About a Boy, but I'll give it 5 since that's not an option. Definitely worth a listen. Oh, and the quality of the narration is wonderful, too.
This is one of those books that was meant to be heard not read. The reader was excellent, it is funny, entertaining, light. Its not a thinker, not teribly deep, just very funny and very enjoyable.
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