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Starter For Ten - David Nicholls

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Author: David Nicholls / Genre: Fiction

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    8 Reviews
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      05.12.2013 13:33
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      Excellent Story

      ==The Synopsis of the book:==

      Brian Jackson has recently been accepted for University having done wonderfully well in his 'A' Levels. The year is 1985 and he prepares to leave his Mum and his home in Southend for a new exciting phase in his life. He knows he will miss his two closest friends in Spencer and Tone but has promised to come back to visit them when he can. As his friends despite being as intelligent as he is have chosen to find employment rather than further education.

      Young Mr Jackson will be studying English Literature. However no sooner than he has arrived there, he discovers the University are planning on putting a team into the television programme 'University Challenge'. While studying the notice a beautiful student called Alice encourages him to have a try out for the team. And as he immediately falls for her and it could mean if successful they get to know each other better so he readily agrees. As she is destined to become his first love but can Brian woo this very popular and seemingly very natural admired woman to be his girlfriend?

      ==My thoughts on this novel:==

      I really found this an entertaining piece of fiction. It was the type of book I never wanted it to end because there was always something happening and I really took to the main characters Brian's situation and everything that happened to him. I enjoyed the fact he had met his first real love in Alice and how he tried different approaches to win her heart so that she would fall as deeply in love with him as he was her.

      The book is about a young man growing up and it was an amazing and powerful story because it demonstrated to me just how much the central character had changed and matured from the start to the end of the story. And while I do not consider myself to be similar in personality or character to him I can understand a lot of his thoughts and actions in per-suite of the woman of his dreams. And the way any of us can make a fool of ourself while trying to impress someone.

      Added to this I enjoyed the way Brian's relationship changed with the other key characters in the story. They are all quite different from him so identification and understanding their personalities was very easy and consistant with their characteristics. I liked the way his friendship was tested with the old friends he had left behind to go to University as they felt he was changing and his new life to changing his attitude and feelings towards them.

      For me the key ingredient to this excellent story is the way it was written. I found it had everything I could ask for. The central theme being first love but it also dealt with a young man's changing thoughts, understanding and developing knowledge, wisdom and facing up to new challenges with his old friends and his family. And as it was so well thought through by the author there was always something to saver in his intelligent descriptions about what was happening to Brian.

      I felt like the author really understand his lead character when he shared his thoughts, ideas and opinions with the reader. So that you also understood exactly what why he thought that way. It may not have always been what I was thinking but it made sense and you understood why at least he thought that way. And longer the story developed despite a few excellent hiccups you felt he was maturing well and finding his place in life.

      The humour within the story was really first class. There were so many funny well described scenes that had we imagining them and chucking away. Especially when Brian was trying usually badly to impress either Alice of one of the other students. These once again were excellent written and at times even I felt embarrassed for the poor chap. And with the wit being the whole way through the story I found it was a real treat and one I am sure I will return to because it was so entertaining. As for me this is if not the best right up there as an amazing piece of fiction.

      Yet another feature I loved about this book was it was full of surprises. I really had no idea what would happen next. Yes I always wanted the best for Brian but the story was full of the unexpected. Especially towards the end of it. Usually I find the ending of books predictable but this one was anything but and I enjoyed a lot of these concepts. Indeed after completing the book I wondered if the author would consider a follow up as I for one would be interested in what happens later in Brian's life and how it all pans out for him.

      I am not a big fan of love stories as a rule and I will avoid wherever I can this type of book. I struggle with the emotions and in truth some of the unusual things we do for love. But this story was in so many ways an innocent story and it was entertain because it was quite of funny that Brian was trying to woo this beautiful young lady and making such a bad job of it. Which often make him look far worse than he needed or wanted to. And even the ending which I will say nothing more about is different to what I expected.

      To be honest I had never heard of the English author David Nicholls before picking this book up at my local charity shop. I am so impressed by his style of writing which is intelligent, witty and makes you think. That said I will be now looking out for his next book called 'One Day' which is it is a patch on this one will be excellent. In some ways his style reminded me of Nick Hornby but with so much depth in the story a grade about his work. While in others with the wit and humour it reminded me of the Adrian Mole stories as he grows up.

      And I suppose if I have one very minor criticism of the book it would be the summary of the story on the rear of the book. For me it should have been longer as I thought four lines failed to do it anywhere near the justice it deserved. Two maybe three paragraphs about Brian would have been far better and encouraged more people to purchase it. As if I had just gone on this I would not have bought it despite all the praise for it on the inside cover of the book.

      Length wise by paperback copy was 473 pages long which seemed about the right length to me. With each chapter starting with an 'University Challenge' type question, which I found impossible to answer but luckily the answer was below the question!! It was a good approach and reminded the reader of what special event was coming up. And with a total of 43 chapters in the story I always felt these short chapters were breaking the stories different concepts up well and I was progressing well in the story, without ever feeling as with long chapters that to was hard going.

      ==Conclusion:==

      This is a book I have no hesitation in recommending to anyone and everyone. It is a first class read and there is so much to saver within it. As the base of it is Brian and his love for the beautiful Alice
      but his experiences are so well written about and the humour within the story is absolutely priceless. I see it has also been turned into a film, so I must watch that to see how it compares with this wonderfully book.

      ==Additional Information:==

      Paperback version:
      Pages:473
      Price: £5.59 New from Amazon
      Publisher:Hodder Paperbacks
      ISBN-10:0340734876
      ISBN-13:978-034073872
      Year first Published:2003

      Thanks for reading my review.

      This review is published under my user name on both Ciao and Dooyoo.

      (c) CPTDANIELS December 2013

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        20.08.2012 10:41
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        Great book, very recommended

        This is a review of the 2003 book 'Starter for Ten' by David Nicholls who is well known for his book which became a big box office film 'One Day'. Starter for Ten has many parallels with One Day, mainly that the book takes place at University (OK so One Day started with graduation but never mind that!).

        What's it about
        The book follows Brian from his last days at home to his first days at university. Set in the 80s it is a nostalgic read with many music references but Brian is a Kate Bush fan so there is a lot in there. Whilst Brian is aware of his shortcomings (bad skin, bad hair, hailing from a lowly background, unpopular, and a bit of a general loser) it doesn't stop him from falling for the most sought after, prettiest girl at Uni and in his quest for love ends up stalking her around the campus. The book title gives away the main theme of the book, in that Brian's a huge fan of the TV show University Challenge and it is his dream to appear on the show one day. He auditions for the university team and scrapes a place alongside the lovely Alice and the book plots his journey from there to the filming of the show.

        My thoughts
        I really enjoyed reading this, being a huge Adrian Mole fan, Brian definitely had some 'Moleist' traits and really did put his foot in it a lot with people. He's a blagger too, knowing that he waffles on in seminars without meaning, talking about books he hasn't read and quoting bits of Shakespeare in an attempt to impress his peers and tutors. I had a bit of a vague feeling that this book was ringing bells in my mind and sure enough when I logged the read, I had actually read it back in 2005 which is a bit embarrassing as I can't really recall the plot and definitely got something else from the book this time of reading.

        Structure
        Although the book is entirely narrated by the main protagonist Brian, each chapter starts with a University Challenge style question. The answer reflects the content of the forthcoming chapter so you can sometimes guess when things are not going to go his way. This made for a nice break in between reading and whilst the questions were definitely not so difficult as the TV show I still enjoyed trying not to see the answer and have a stab at them!

        Themes
        Aside from the obvious love and romantic theme, there was a lot of other areas covered by the book. Brian lost his dad when he was a youngster and there is a lot of hurt there and a great divide between him and his mum. He ends up going home for Christmas and Easter breaks only and staying at Uni In between much to the disappointment of his school friends from home. Friendship is also a good one to mention as Brian is a bit embarrassed of his loutish friends and is horrified when one turns up on the doorstep of his digs expecting a friendly welcome. His friends mock Brian for being scholarly and are really tickled when they find out he's going to be on telly.

        Favourite bit
        I really had to laugh out loud when Brian goes in to the town centre on a new year's resolution to get fit. He's on a small student budget but parts with his Christmas money to buy a set of weights to train with in his room. Then he realises he has to walk a few miles home including a steep hill and suddenly the weights seem like not such a good idea! This part had me in stitches.

        Final word
        It comes a bit late to Brian but at 19 years old this really is a coming of age novel. Whilst Brian is a total loser and his attempts at fashion with granddad collared shirts and round specs and a Brideshead hair cut fail miserably, there must be something there about him as the women do suffer through his bad jokes and nervous chit chat and a relationship is on the cards a few times in the book. I read this book in just over 24 hours and tore through it, enjoying it hugely. It helped that I was a bit poorly so took to bed for a while but it wasn't a ruse to read, I promise! I can highly recommend this book and think if you enjoyed 'One Day' you will almost certainly enjoy 'Starter for Ten'.

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        09.11.2011 22:59
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        Entertaining, light hearted read

        Currently being in my 2nd year of University, I could understand and relate to the main character of the book, Brian, very easily and the story had me laughing throughout the most of it. Having read David Nicholls 'One Day' I expected that this book would be one I would enjoy and I did, but in all honesty it's not a mind-blowing story; an awkward teenage protagonist starting University and having to deal with the problems that comes with falling in love with a beautiful blonde girl. Yet it's something that most people can relate too - it is honest about sex, acne, partying, drinking and relationships. I found myself embarrassed for Brian and wishing something would just work out for him. Caring about the characters is surely a sign of a good novel, and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to read an entertaining, lighthearted story but it is not a ground-breaking novel.

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          25.08.2011 23:39
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          a good book

          I'd gotten an interest in the author David Nicholls when I saw the trailer for the movie One Day and decided that I really had to see - once I found out that it was a book I needed to read (I still haven't!) but when reading up on the authors other books, Starter for 10 had really good reviews and sounded like it had an interesting plot line.

          Brian Jackson loves knowledge, and ever since being younger he has always wanted to be on university challenge. He is considered at school as slightly strange, but hopes to shake this reputation off when he heads to university to study English. While there he falls instantly in love with aspiring actress Alice and embarks upon a quest to make her feel the same way. With relationships and university life, will he achieve his dream of winning university challenge?

          This was a fresh enjoyable book from best selling author David Nicholls. It certainly gave some strong opinions about university, making it seem very class oriented - or I'm not sure if this is just the university in question that the author was referring to. The layout of the book was also good, I liked that there was a university challenge question at the start of every chapter, and felt quite clever when I knew the answer to a few of them! Most of the characters are well written although I never really warmed to the character of Alice despite the main character being in love with her! At some points I was wishing that Brian would get together with the Chinese member of the challenge team. It's available for £4.49 on amazon, or alternatively its on many special offers at the moment in Waterstones, WHSmith, Sainsburys etc.

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            10.08.2010 15:51
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            For anyone who's been to university or would like to know more

            Apparently David Nicholls now has an excellent new book out - One Day- which is said to be 'brilliantly funny and moving.' Well, considering 'Starter for Ten' was published seven years ago, it does a good job of fitting the same description.

            It's set in 1985, and is written from a first-person perspective by a young man named Brian, who's about to embark on his first year at uni. He's a funny character who's sweet and sensitive, but who also likes to see himself as a bit of an intellectual, and slightly set apart from the friends of his youth, and from all that makes him working class. He's eminently likeable, despite his tendency to be a bit pompous, rather like Adrian Mole.

            While at uni, Brian gets his first taste of love- he falls hard for Alice, an upper class blonde bombshell who apparently has different men to stay in her digs several nights of the week and may or not have feelings for Brian in return.

            And then there's Rebecca, the tough political activist who obviously wants to make him see sense over his delirious obsession with Alice, but can't quite get through to him, despite the fact that he may actually be better off with her than with Alice.

            To top it all off, he's been picked as a reserve for the University Challenge team, a dream he'd been waiting to fulfil as it's the programme he always sat down to watch with his father, who died when he was still young.

            Despite starting university myself 15 years later than Brian does in the book, I still felt that Nicholls managed to sum up very accurately the general university atmosphere, some of which he does in quite a tongue-in-cheek way e.g. when Brian describes the little 'French' cafe in the student union, which is obviously doing its best, bless its little heart, to be arty and sophisticated, but instead just manages to sell over-priced coffee.

            The class issue plays a strong role in the story, as Alice is very upper class and Brian is firmly in the working class bracket, since his father sold double glazing and his mother works in Woolworths (fortunately about 20 years prior to its demise!) The culture clashes that inevitably follow allow for some humorous moments, but they are also thought-provoking, in a gentle manner.

            This is going to be a very short review, as there's not a lot more I can say about the book, except that I recommend you read it. It's funny, warm-hearted and easy to relate to, as well as having its clever moments.

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              28.05.2007 19:45
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              a tale of university life in the 80s

              In my opinion university days are the happiest days of our lives not school days. However they can be problematic especially at first as you deal with new freedoms, meeting new people who may or may not be similar to you and trying to work out who you are whilst trying so hard to be somebody else? Does this sound familiar? This was to an extent my experience of university as a Fresher and it must have been the same for Cold Feet writer David Nicholls His debut novel Starter For 10 is a witty, insightful comedy about university life including that television institution University Challenge.

              The year is 1985. Do you remember it? I sort of do. Brian Jackson our narrator and “hero” of the book certainly does. This was the year that the working class lad left behind his widowed Woolie's employee of a mum with his best friends from school Tone and Spencer back in his hometown of Southend to seek that powerful substance called knowledge. His destination is unnamed university d thus a stony of unrequited love, pretentiousness, foot in mouth syndrome and a use for his useless general knowledge ensues as he gets on the university Challenge team whilst trying to get off with his ideal woman Alice Harbinson.

              It has a similar quality to the wonderful “The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets” in the fact that it is time specific and timeless at the same time. I say this as the period of the 1980s is very specific. Nicholl's evokes the era so well in his description of films, fashion, political issues and music. However as I have already mentioned if you have left home to go to university or college you will really warm to this book. I saw so much of Duskman and myself in Brian. There were so many scenes where I could take myself back 12 years and understand the situation completely. I remember arriving at university and meeting so many people; that you ended up avoiding as you could not stand th sight of. I remember dire themed hall and house mates I did not particularly like but had to live with them. Nicholls portrays these instances with realism and a good dose of comedy which made me laugh and remember what idiots we all were then as well as looking at the time with great fondness.

              However there is also the split between home and university life and the not quite feeling right in your old world. At times I thought sorry for Brian as he struggled to understand what was happening in his old world. He finds a number of changes as his mother finds companionship elsewhere. I think these scenes along with the ones of him and his mates were particularly tender, poignant but perhaps a little bit difficult. Again I could empathise as I found myself a bit of an outsider in my own family as my sister and mum got closer. That's what made this book a fairly good read to me.

              Th characteristion is interesting. I got to know Brian fairly as the book is told in the first person narrative so we are privy to all his personal thoughts and perceptions of the events that happen.. Brian is the only character in fiction that I liked at the beginning of the book but began to dislike halfway through. At first he comes across as naive, a bit geeky but still one of the lads, however halfway through he began to really annoy me due to his immaturity failings to see signals especially with his relationships with females which to everyone else including the reader stick out like Christan Union Student in a riotous student party. You could see what was going to happen and you just wanted him to realise it. A lot of the situations were amusing but you felt you were laughing at Brian rather than with him as a lot of the scrapes he finds himself in are so cirngeworthy. I also found that these scrapes became monotonous after a while as I ploughed through pages of Brian loves Alice but does she love him? Due to this I felt a litlte bit restless in the middle of the book , it really could have been at least 50 pages shorter than the 496 pages it was.

              The other thing I noticed about the characters were how pretentious a lot of them were from the main characters to the bit parts such as Christ the gap year student and his tales of toilet habits in India. The one character I found likable but pretentious at the same time was Rebbecca Epstein, Brian's, friend, sparring partner and maybe love interest (when he was not idolisng Alice). We've all met a Rebeca at university. She is the right on often socialist politics student with the social conscious who supports every single cause going. They often and up running for student Union President then going on to other things. I can certainly think of a couple of Rebeccas from my time at university. However there was one thing that irked me about Rebbecca. She was supposed to be Glaswegian but there was very little hint of an accent in Nicholl's writing apart from stating it was harsh but later it is stated she is the daughter of a consultant paediatrician. I really could not place her voice at all due to the two conflicting pieces of information. I did like her as she was witty and sarcastic even if she is trying too hard.

              One little touch I liked presentation wise was the way the chapter and section headings were formulated. Sections were known as rounds to emphasise the University Challenge theme whilst the chapters began with a University Challenge style question and the answer being linked to the events or theme of the chapter. I just think it was little details like that that made the book for me.

              I could see Starter for Ten being read by both males and female equally. I see it as quite laddish in parts but with a hint of not too sloppy romance. I could see this appealing to Nick Hornby, Tony Parsons and Mike Gayle readers. It really is one for those in their twenties, thirties fourties. It is definitely one for those who remember the 1980s vividly. I doubt a teenager would enjoy it as they would not be able to relate to it.

              The book does have its fault. It is a bit predictable in parts and it could do with being a little shorter but all in all this was a funny, tender and insightful book which I found to be a very easy read. Read this and remember all those lousy alcohol fulled student parties and pretentious tutorials quoting a lot of waffle (arts students only). Thank you David Nicholls for taking me back twelve years to those halcyon years of Stirling University.

              Start for Ten can be bought on Amazon for the bargain price of £1 at the moment

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                13.04.2006 16:37
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                Good flash-back to 1980s university life for a rom-com with bite.

                Blockbusters. 15-1. Catchword with Paul Coia. All have been student staples in the past - before, after or instead of lectures and seminars and revision and awfulnesses like that, students have measured themselves against people on the gogglebox and at times have found themselves wanting.

                Of course, the curse of the modern age is that anything one may remember from one's youth, from sweets to television programmes and records, is now the subject of stand-up, as lame comedians witter on about how wagon wheels were larger back then, and wasn't Going for Gold crap?

                Should we shudder then, when one such meme from our past has become the subject of a 400 page lad-lit rom-com novel? (Meme = roughly, a memory of a past cultural creation that takes on a semi-life of its own through cultural memory. A silly word to drop in an op like this, but it's just to get you into the mindset of the main character.)

                Brian Jackson (though mostly called Jackson - the author clearly had a youth when it was considered the norm to call your friends by their surnames as well) is leaving Southend on Sea for the greater heights of an un-named university town. He says farewell to his two best friends and goes with several aims - one, to leave all problems caused by his dad dying several years previous behind, two, to thrust his vocabulary on all and sundry (hence meme), and three, to get laid.

                Who didn't share at least one of those ambitions when heading to uni?

                And... four, to get on the University Challenge quiz team for that year. Hence the quiz show theme to the book, the obsession with ungeneral knowledge and even the chapter titles herein, which are the answers to quiz questions also provided.

                Of course, this being a rom-com, the romance has to come from somewhere, and it comes from the gorgeous-sounding Alice. Perfect in our narrator's eyes (ie like a blonde Kate Bush), she also manages to get on the UC team. And the rest is the saga of will-they-won't-they, embellished by the token other female (a very political, angsty, Scottish, black-wearing lass), and a surprising amount of other topics.

                To tell the truth, she - Rebecca - is certainly not token by any means. She might not be the most likeable character in literature, but she is memorably curt with life and Jackson - for reasons that will become obvious. Other people populating this university are certainly recognisable to any graduates out there - the ones with dodgy musical taste you want to slap, the polished sporty types you really don't want to mix with, and the scummy druggy types you want to mix with even less, let alone come into physical contact with.

                While this may look, and have the general feel of a light book, there actually is a lot more to it. There are flashbacks to the narrator's father and his funeral, and while some authors may struggle to make their heroes human, David Nicholls gives him a very believable background here, along with all his other problems - rampant acne, a huge ability to put his foot in it, and a great liking for mixing his drinks...

                Of course not everything is going to go swimmingly for Jackson, either regarding the ladies or the quiz show. For one, even though there's only five people taking the test for the audition, he ends up last. Its only due to the welcome return of that student novel staple, hepatitis, that he can make the quartet. He then can embarrass himself further alongside Alice at their weekly rehearsals.

                Meanwhile she seems to be leading him a merry dance. Her talk of all her past lovers would put many a reader to shame, she claims to prefer her independence - and breezily lets him pay for his own birthday treat meal out, and anyway is more interested in being on the stage than in Jackson's company. But somehow they gel, and all the swings of misfortune can begin.

                Their relationship, so crucial to the novel, is unfortunately, the major flaw. From the beginning of it as we see it through Jackson's first person narrative, it's just not credible. It's a long book, so you're unlikely to polish it off in one sitting, but you need a break about a quarter of the way in so you can forget how unlikely any chance of the friendship working is, to make the rest plausible.

                That is a shame, as the rest of the book is very good. The humour is mostly rather slight, but there are good wise-cracks, and some of those stand-up type observations about mid-1980s student life near the beginning (the paragraph on buying reduced-to-clear food still relevant today), and it all breezes past in an amiable fashion.

                But that's not to ignore the serious bits. Our narrator is a peculiar character, really, and both his back-home friends, when he meets up with them later on in the book have cause to tell him "don't be a [expletive deleted]" with all seriousness. Rebecca at times feels the need to put him on the straight and narrow too - and at other times to let him suffer. Not only does he make fauxs-pas, he seems to really go off on one at times, embarrassing all and sundry with what is only his meaning well, but turns out to be lecturing, hectoring, being a right old [expletive deleted] indeed.

                It's surprising, when looking back, that so much of this book is recognisable - all the references to student life and such are spot on, yet the character central to it all is so awkward, socially ungainly - hang on, perhaps the reader was like that as well... Oh dear.

                One downer with the book is the occasional parade of class arguments, with Brian somewhere in between Rebecca, the card-carrying lefty, and Alice, who would appear to be rather on the posh side. They're not funny, if that was the idea, not realistic, and could have been done away with.

                One upper with the book is the amount of plot events that catch you unawares. They branch the novel away from its formulaic story arc, and take the narrator into what only a competent, mature author would have him witness.

                This edge to the book is one of the things that make it stand out from the crowd of Nick Hornby, Tony Parsons and all their imitators. It might also make it more suitable to the female reader - it mellows any slight blokiness to the humour, and makes the narrative drive more interesting. It also makes the book as long as it is, but it isn't too long, which is a relief.

                David Nicholls, a TV writer (for Cold Feet and so on) before this, has branched out into novels with aplomb. This might tick all the boxes as regards standard fare goes, but it also answers the bonus questions too. The writing is sharp, and if not hilarious is certainly never dull. The characters are varied and interesting, both understandable and unpredictable, and only a couple are there for just one purpose. The story goes along fairly standard lines, with many diversions into unexpected territory, and the climax is on the whole rather unguessable.

                Let's face it, this appears to be a lad-lit book, that is in any charity shop near you you care to mention, and yet at the gong it has got theed writing about it on this site. And giving it four stars. AND recommending it.

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                  10.10.2005 08:37
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                  A story of going to university in the 1980s

                  Going to university is often a life changing experience. For some it is a further step on the way to a chosen career that could last the rest of their lives. For others, it's a chance to expand their knowledge in a subject they may have enjoyed at school or never had the chance to study before. For even more, as it was for me, it's a lesson in life; a chance to live away from parents for the first time and to meet new people and new ideas.

                  This last is certainly true for Brian Jackson, keen to get away from his clingy widowed mother and their house in Southend. Feeling intelligent by the standards of his closest friends, it's also a chance for him to mix with people he can have a decent conversation with. But for Brian Jackson, university means one thing more than any other – the chance to make an appearance on "University Challenge".

                  Sadly, whilst Brian may be intelligent enough for a televised general knowledge quiz, he's sadly lacking in wisdom about the ways of the world. He's not cool enough to appeal to the beautiful and upper class Alice Harbinson, who Brian falls immediately in lust with and he can't fake being lower class well enough to impress the socialist Rebecca. While Brian's intelligence may be the path to making all his dreams come true, his lack of worldly wisdom could prove to be his downfall along the way.

                  Although many of the characters may seem a little clichéd, they are the kind of people you can often meet on any university campus around the country. Whilst I personally can't recall meeting people exactly like them, there are aspects of every character that I can put a name to from my university days. Perhaps most worryingly of all, I can identify quite well with Brian as being the person I was when I first went to university.

                  It is this familiarity, not just with the people but also the situations that gives this book a little touch of realism. There are bits you can almost reach out and touch, similar to the fanaticism for everything Arsenal in Nick Hornby's "Fever Pitch", or the impending disaster of a landmark birthday such as in Mike Gayle's "Turning Thirty". It may not be something you've experienced personally, but it is something close enough to home and accurately portrayed that you can know someone who has. Suddenly, you're not reading a work of fiction; you're a part of the story. It's not quite "This is Your Life", but it's a life you know, at least in part.

                  But it's not just life, it's a funny life. Yes, in some parts Nicholls has taken the most extremes of behaviour to help keep the reader amused, but he mostly manages to present even the most mundane of situations in such a way that you can't help but laugh.

                  But laughter isn't the most frequent thing you'll be doing as you read "Starter For Ten". For Brian is so hopeless that you can't help but cringe and squirm with embarrassment at many of his mishaps, particularly early on in the story. This is even more so if you've made similar mistakes yourself. As Brian kept putting his foot in it, missing the obvious and digging an ever deeper hole for himself in trying to make things right, I kept wanting to shout at him not to say or do what he was about to and save himself further humiliation.

                  But apart from having to look away in shared embarrassment with the characters, or having my concentration interrupted by the sheer naivete of their behaviour, this is a thoroughly engrossing book. It's rare to find so much you can identify with in any work of fiction, which makes me wonder if it wasn't based, at least in part, on the author's own time at university.

                  If you've ever been to university, particularly if you were there in the 1980's, when Brian Jackson was there, you need to read "Starter For Ten". If you've ever enjoyed "University Challenge" and wondered what the competitors have to go through to get on the show, you need to read "Starter For Ten".

                  The good news is that it's not too expensive to find a copy. Although the Amazon price of £5.59 or £5.49 at Play.com is perhaps a little steep, copies can be found at Green Metropolis for £3.75. Copies have also been seen from 99p on eBay and less than 30p at the Amazon Marketplace, which is a good price to pay for something that will bring back memories, although they may be more embarrassing than happy ones.

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