I have written before about comedians turned novelists – and on the whole I have had positive experiences of the whole thing. I do really enjoy a story which can make me laugh out loud and comedians, with their years of experience of closely observing the people around them, seem to me to be well placed to write great characters. And, of course, it isn’t all about the laughs – the clown who laughs to hide an inner sorrow is virtually a cliché… I may be a bit shallow though and I tend to only read novels by comedians whose actual comedy work I enjoy. I can’t even imagine wanting to read fiction written by Jim Davidson or Bernard Manning. Shappi Khorsandi, however, is someone I have seen and enjoyed both on tv and live so I was looking forward to reading her first novel.
Given the plot outline – Nina is a 17-year-old who is sure she doesn’t have a drinking problem; even though she does things she regrets while drunk; even though her father was an alcoholic; even though she needs to carry drink around with her to make it through the day at college and even though she is lost and drifting after her boyfriend met somebody else on his gap year – I was expecting something bittersweet, with a lot of arguing with parents and, towards the end, a new romance to replace the shallow ex. Boy was I wrong…This book has laughs, it has totally believable teen characters (complete with teen reasoning) and it has, I think, a pretty good idea of what it is like to be young today. And then it has a scarily graphic depiction of what it is actually like to be an alcoholic before you are old enough to vote. We are not spared the vomit, the lost hours and the downright risky sexual behaviour. We suffer the slut-shaming, the gossip and the rigours of rehab along with Nina: we experience the love for a little sister which keeps Nina plugging away at her recovery and we feel the support of best friend Beth. This is pretty immersive stuff and I really loved it.
I think what impressed me most about this novel is just how well Khorsandi puts us in the place of such a young woman. I guess it should always be easier for an author in their forties to write about characters twenty or thirty years younger than for someone in their twenties to really know how it feels to get old. One is writing from remembered experience and the other from, at best, good research. But it is rarely as accurate as this – the best and, for sure, the worst of a very young woman learning how to live with her particular demons.