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A while ago I read and reviewed Nick Spalding's first book, Life....with no breaks, which was basically a book about writing a book. Nick sat at his keyboard with no idea where the book was going to go and just typed, aiming to write for 24 hours non-stop. The result was an interesting and amusing combination of observations on life and anecdotes in a book he described as part autobiography and part "half-arsed confessional." I really enjoyed Life...with no breaks so couldn't wait to read the sequel, Life....on a high. In the second book Nick is writing on a long haul flight. So it's a slightly different setting but really more of the same - embarrassing confessions, rants, words of wisdom and asides on a range of topics, presented in the same conversational style as the first book, as if author and reader are two good friends being reunited after a break. You may find the concept of talking the flight away with a virtual companion intensely irritating or cute and engaging. I found it a bit of both. Nick invites the reader to come and join him in business class as he travels to Australia. "There's an empty booth opposite that looks perfect for you.....If you're going to keep me company as I fly across the world, you'll need somewhere nice and comfortable to sit, won't you?.....Feel free to steal the headphones when we land." It's rather charming, but I admit I found some of the banter rather patronising at times.
When I started the book I feared it may not live up to my expectations. I loved the first book but that was probably because it was something of a novelty. I had my doubts whether Nick would be able to do essentially the same thing again, but at 40,000 feet, and pull it off. However an opening anecdote about a fishing trip soon had me chuckling. It's a cringingly embarrassing tale of Nick's efforts to ingratiate himself with his fishing fanatic father-in-law and without giving too much away it involves a pair of bright yellow waders ten sizes too big, a huge slippery trout and a freezing cold Cumbrian river. Once I'd wiped the tears from my eyes and regained my composure, I was ready to forgive Nick for trying to reproduce the same book second time round. You can't help but warm to him when he shares his most vulnerable moments in a self-deprecating style. He can be annoyingly laddish at times though, with his quips about attractive stewardesses and too many references to his sexual habits.
I enjoy observational comedy but I find that if someone is only making observations about things I've observed for myself long before, it can be rather dull. There needs to be a balance between making you nod your head and say, "my thoughts exactly" and making you think, "wow! I never looked at it that way." Overall, I think Nick Spalding gets the balance about right in this book, although there were times when he seemed to overdo his rants over the failings of Tony Blair and express opinions I'd heard many times before. Although I found myself agreeing with much of what he said about the state of Britain, referring to such things as student fees and the benefits system, I found it less interesting because I was so familiar with the arguments and subject matter. I have realised that I prefer Nick when he talks about off-the-wall subjects, things that I'm unlikely to read about elsewhere. If I want to read about what's wrong with the police service or about the nanny state mentality, I can just pick up a Daily Mail and do so. However, where else but in a Nick Spalding book would I read about how it feels to be molested by a weirdo in a chipmunk suit at Disney World, or about a bad experience with LSD which convinced him he was a banana?
What I like about the book is that it's a light, relaxing read, thought-provoking in a laidback kind of way without over-taxing your brain. There's no heavy philosophy in here, but it's one of those books where you might turn to your partner and read out a passage now and again because it has struck a chord with you. Nick has a habit of veering off at tangents as he writes, which means that he rarely spends too long on a single subject. However, in this book more so than the first, I thought he tended to linger slightly too long on particular themes. For example, the section where he talks about his obsession with Batman did not hold my interest because I haven't seen any of the films. However, it's possible to skim over the bits that you don't want to read and pick it up again when he starts on a new subject, without losing the flow. Nick introduces each new section with a quick summary of where he is on his journey and how many words he has written. For example: "11.45 GMT. 1984 words. Over Belgium. It looks even more boring from 40,000 feet." Although this isn't intended to be a flight log, I did find it interesting to see what countries he flew over and stopped off at en route to Australia, never having travelled there myself.
One of the most interesting and funny parts of the book for me was Nick's account of his experiences with internet dating. He reasons, "you can find a car, a new vacuum cleaner and a signed photo of Chris Waddle on the internet if you look hard enough, so why not love?" A series of dates from hell are recounted, my personal favourite being a soup-slurping French woman with a penchant for cigarettes that smell like someone has set fire to a wet bison. There is also a lovely tale of garden gnome theft and Nick's top 10 tips on how to stay young.
Overall, I would recommend this as an upbeat, fun, cheery read, a great bit of escapism, ideal for reading if you're on a flight of your own. The first book combined humour with more poignant recollections but i felt that the sequel is played more for laughs. It's not really a criticism but the contrasting moods of the first book gave it the edge over this one, in my view. However, Nick Spalding is still on form. I don't know how long he'll be able to continue churning out books in the same genre though. Surely he's going to start running out of things to talk about soon, but perhaps I underestimate him. I enjoyed Life....on a high but I have to admit that the magic is fading just a little for me. One sequel is fine, but let's not have a whole series of 'Life' books.
Life....on a High is currently available at the Amazon Kindle store for a very reasonable £0.99.