It could be worse. I could be sitting in a bus shelter, emanating a foul miasma of body odour and cheesy wotsits, all my possessions in a shopping trolley, drinking a Tennants Extra and meths cocktail, slurring "yer all fuckers"*. It could be raining while this is happening. Frankly, there were times this week when that would have seemed like a nice evening out.
(*There was a man like that who used to go into Finchley Tescos. Sunglasses, long black stained coat that had once been expensive, smell of Wotsits and body odour (and possibly faintly goaty hum about him) , wirebrush stubble, very grumpy and sweary, talked to someone unseen. Used to tell self it was Van Morrison. Not totally out of question: once saw Sporty Spice in Finchley Tesco!)
But no. I have a place to live. I have curtains and it only took me six months to put them up. I have felafel in the fridge, three episodes of Leverage to watch, and I don't currently want to brain anyone with a 21" iMac, which makes it better than last Wednesday or Thursday. Next week I probably won't have to work 70 hours in five days.
Upsides. That is the current focus.
Rather than talk about life, let's talk about One Day, by David Nicholls, which was the book I was hoping that Juliet, Naked would be.
The fact that at one particular point I threw it at the wall, growling you utter utter BASTARD at the author should not be seen as some sort of anti-rec. The fact is that I started it at about 8pm tonight and ended up reading and reading, until I threw it at the wall, then I got out of bed, picked it up off the floor and read it some more until it was finished. A most satisfactory reading experience.
The book is about Emma and Dexter, who meet on the night of their graduation from Edinburgh University in 1988. She's very bright, very earnest and wants to make art that will change the world; he's a chancer who wants a job that will impress the knickers off the girls.
The book then takes a snapshot of each St Swithin's Day for the next 20 years or so, as Emma moves from hellish restaurant work into teaching, and then into writing, and Dex moves from bumming about the world into television, and becomes a sort-of famous presenter of an appalling late-night television show.
So far, so When Harry Met Sally. Yet despite the limitations imposed by the form he has chosen, Nicholls manages to capture the changing nature of Emma and Dex's friendship, from their early frantic letter-writing and sexual tension to later disappointments and falling out to their rediscovery of why they liked each other in the first place.
The characters are wonderful: they're endearing and flawed and real seeming. Emma, in particular, is very funny, which is a quality you tend to find more in chicklit than in mass market fiction written by a man. (or maybe I am just jaded at reading too many books where the men are witty and drive the plot and the women are there to provide neurotic window-dressing). And while Dexter is a horrifying mockney dickhead in the 90s, you understand how he got there, and more importantly, how he finds his true, rather sweet personality again.
What I really liked was how wonderfully Nicholls captured each slice of time. Every chapter had me remembering some new horror or joy from the 1990s, yet it didn't namedrop brands or even particularly use music as some cheap aide memoire. It's simply expertly located in the period it explores, and in the personal timeline of the characters, from the horrible gaucheness of your early twenties to the creeping horror of your mid-thirties. It has that same kind of pinpoint observation, lacerating honesty and transparent, effortless prose that Nick Hornby has at his best. It's not perfect throughout, and it rang slightly false to me that Emma doesn't seem to have female friends, but when it gets it right, it's brilliant. There's one letter from Dexter to Emma while he is in India that he doesn't send (typically, he leaves it inside a book that he loses because he's met a fit Dutch woman and wanders off without it) that was just gorgeous.
And I suppose it must be some kind of praise that it pissed me off enough to make me throw it at the wall, and then make me pick it up again. When I finished it, I felt rather as I did when I finished the last book in the Tales of the City set* I didn't want to say goodbye to the characters, I was sort of sad at the way some things had turned out, and I felt all melancholic and wrung-dry in the lovely way that comes from reading something good and sad and funny.
David Nicholls still a bastard though.
*not the last one. Wish I hadn't read that. Spoiled much cherished head-canon.