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Publisher's Summary

Thirty-two-year-old actor Stephen C. McQueen (no, not that Steve McQueen) is waiting for his big break. His only screen credits so far are playing dead bodies on cop and doctor shows. At the moment, he's paying the rent by understudying hot movie star Josh Harper, who's trying to gain dramatic credibility in a West End play. If only Josh would miss a performance, Stephen-with-a-P-H could prove his talent and redeem himself in the eyes of his disapproving ex-wife and their precocious seven-year-old daughter.

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

Critic Reviews

  • 2005 Publishers Weekly Listen Up Award, Fiction

"The follow-up to Nicholls' hilarious debut novel, A Question of Attraction, is a smart, funny, big-hearted romantic comedy." (Booklist, starred review)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

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Performance

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    14
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Story

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  • Overall

An Actor's Nightmare

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!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Lisa
  • Great Barrington, MA, USA
  • 11-18-07

Fun story, uneven narration

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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Jason
  • Morristown, TN, USA
  • 06-11-07

Fun Character Study

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.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Bryan
  • hickory, NC, United States
  • 07-06-15

The blame shouldn't all land on the author.

Even my phone breathed a sigh of relief when I finished this book. I am pretty sure Siri thanked me when I deleted it. There is no way David Nicholls could've written this book after how great his other two books were. I was finally able to finish this after avoiding it for months because I had nothing else to listen to on a long drive that was made to feel much much longer than it actually was.
As my headline says, some of this terribleness lands on the producer and the reader. The crappy background music that was piped in was out of place. I don't know what else to say about it other than I hated it.
The reader annoyed me but not to the point where I wanted to scratch out both my eyeballs.
I hope this was the first book he ever wrote and not his latest.

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Light and funny

I wanted a light and funny book, no portentous literary fiction, and this book met my expectations. It is largely a madcap farce in which many ridiculous but entertaining things happen.

  • Overall

Very enjoyable

A thoroughly enjoyable tale about the pursuit of dreams and passion — and what it takes to finally grow up. An easy and satisfying listen.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Michelle
  • 2205 Cape Horn Ave Coquitlam
  • 08-14-06

a good light read

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.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful