Good Material by Dolly Alderton: book review

Good Material by Dolly Alderton 

Overview: Andy's longterm girlfriend broke up with him after a trip to Paris, and he's been wallowing ever since. We follow Andy as he learns to be single again at 35 and grieves a relationship he imagined would be forever. His friends aren't as present as he'd like, his ex-girlfriend moves on fast, and his comedy career is barely hanging on to add insult to injury. We watch Andy navigate a new relationship, try to revive his career, and struggle to move on from his ex because he can't find the closure he needs. Then, at end the book, we hear from his ex-girlfriend, Jen, to shade in the rest of the picture. Overall: 4

Characters: 4 Andy is a fine character. I liked him enough. He's sad but endearing and seems well intentioned for the most part. I don't think that Alderton did a bad job writing him by any means, but even though the book is written in first person, I never felt close to Andy. He shared internal feelings, but his actions in the world were so limited and repetitive, I found that I never fully connected with Andy. He felt a bit one dimensional the entire time, and he spends so much of the book in an emotional stasis that his character development struggles to have any consistency leading up to when everything is almost magically "fixed." There was just something flat about Andy that I couldn't fully pin down. This was underscored by the final chapter written in Jen's voice where she rehashes the whole of the book from her perspective. Her voice bounded off the page with so much nuance, depth, and realism. I heavily related to Jen's experience as a woman struggling with the reality that she likes her own company, doesn't really want kids, and could take or leave a romantic relationship. She's a fascinating character, but though no fault of Andy's really, she's so flat through most of the book as an object of nostalgic fascination that I didn't discover this until the end. In her voice, the beats of the story are just better, more interesting, more nuanced. Being given that point of view character only emphasized my questioning around why Andy needed to be the main character. 

The rest of the cast is relayed just as flatly when looking through Andy's eyes. Jen is just a distant wish. Andy's best friend Avi and his wife Jane are reduced to well meaning young parents who want to support Andy but are in a different place in life. Emery is the foil to Andy's comedy troubles as Emery's career starts to take off and elevate him on their circuit. The character given the most nuance ends up being one of Andy's flings, but I can't say too much about that without giving major spoilers. I don't want to harp on Andy's portrayal as being unrealistic because he was written by a woman or anything like that, but there has been such an emphasis on the point of telling this story through a male main character, and I couldn't help but notice the characters that did really come to life were the women in the book whereas the male characters in general just felt so flat. I feel like Alderton was really reaching to make some grand point here and ended up missing the mark overall. 

Plot: 4 Break-ups are awful, repetitive wastelands where you think you'll feel the same way forever. That's what makes stories about the aftermath of an adult break-up so hard to capture because constant, monotonous repetition is difficult to pull off in an interesting way in novels. And Andy does a lot of the same things over and over. We watch Andy get drunk (usually alone), work a random job to pay the bills, do a 10 minute comedy set, and get drunk again – over and over in a decent amount of detail and little variation most times. Until I reached about 65% of the way through the book, I questioned why these scenes weren't more selectively chosen to skim down the process and present us only the best pieces. The threads about Andy's failing career were interesting. I wish more focus was given to Andy's struggling comedy career and what it means to reach middle age and be less sure than ever that your career is going to work out. These threads were some of the most compelling in the book, but ultimately, Alderton swerves exploring them in any real depth in order to grant Andy his happy ending. 

The plot of the book feels much more interesting when it's speed relayed back through Jen's point of view. Condensed down to a few essential paragraphs for each incident, this book is really interesting. In the long form version, I did a lot of speed reading. 

Writing: 4 The biggest flaw of the book and its saving grace is randomly switching into Jen's point of view with no warning to give a final coda to the book. It's jarring when I appears, and I wondered why we were getting this random switch to summarize the book from the other side and answer all the lingering questions Andy had about the end of their relationship. Jen's side is so much more interesting because she has the answers, she has the internal conflict, whereas Andy is just mopey and confused. Getting that glimpse at the complexity of their relationship and her choice to leave it makes the book feel worthwhile and has left me mulling over some very important topics about subverting societal expectations and finding security in walking your own path through life. Sadly 90% of the book did not have this quality. Andy's positioning in this break-up simply didn't lend to him being a great main character.

I've always been a bigger fan of Alderton's for her nonfiction than her fiction. I thought Ghost was a fun enough read but nothing remarkable. The ending chapter of Good Material elevates it above this first novel, but it's still a bit awkward and confused in itself and its execution. I just find that her voice is fun to read, but the elemental parts of the storytelling don't quite click in her novels, so if you just want to read a Dolly Alderton book to understand the bookstagram hype train, I'd recommend going for Everything I Know About Love instead.

More From This Author: 

Everything I Know About Love nonfiction review

Ghost review

More on Reading, Writing, and Me:

20 Questions Book Tag

Because Internet nonfiction review

Martyr! review

You Are Here review 


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