New Book – The Understudy by David Nicholls


Publishing year: 2005

I loved “One Day” by David Nicholls, so I started this book with anticipation.

I haven’t read the blurb, so I didn’t know what to expect. I have read the first part, and I have to say that it is full of hilarious moments from the main character. However, there is a tragic element as well as we read about this sad, unsuccessful writer. The main character is Stephen C. McQueen, an thirty-two-year-old actor with many dreams but little success. He does little parts, mainly dead characters in detective television shows, and currently he is the understudy in a theatrical production starred by a Hollywood star called Josh Harper. Stephen keeps hoping that his chance will come one day, but so far he has been left empty-handed. Josh Harper encapsulate everything that Stephen longs for and doesn’t have.

After one performance Josh tells him about a party he’s throwing for his birthday and he should come, so Stephen feels excited to be invited and have the opportunity to hobnob with important actors and producers. However, there is a little misunderstanding, and what Josh really meant was that Stephen could work for him as a waiter at the party. Stephen feels disappointed and humiliated, and he is about to leave, but then he meets Josh’s American wife, Nora. Nora seems to like Stephen and seeks him out for a chat, claiming that all her husband’s friends bore her terribly and Stephen is the most interesting person there. The party ends with Stephen getting drunk, vomiting over the guests’ coats, and Nora jostling him into a taxi. The next day to his horror he realizes that he has stolen Josh’s BAFTA award as a best actor and one of the figurines of his very expensive Star-Wars collection.

Stephen sees Nora again when she goes to the theatre. Once again Nora goes to talk to him, and she gushes all over him. I can see that Nora is another thing that Stephen might want for himself, but he knows that he will probably not see Nora again. Yet, I have the feeling that he might be wrong, and something might be in store for him.

Despite all the humour and innuendos, Stephen’s life is quite sad. He is quite lonely, living in a shabby studio, which doesn’t even have a fridge after buying in when he was in a period of drunkenness. He used to be married to Alison, who he admits to still loving, but they got divorced. We don’t know what happened between them, but it is clear that his lack of a steady income and his persistence in being an actor without any perspectives must have been the reason for the failure of their marriage. Alison used to want to be an actress, but I imagine that when there was no future in acting, he changed careers. Alison and Stephen have a seven-year-old daughter, who now lives with Alison and her new husband. Stephen sees his daughter once a week, and the part when they spend time together is quite sad as if there is a big gap, and Stephen is hardly fluent in his relationship with his daughter.

Stephen’s situation is quite sad, and it is praiseworthy to see him to stick to his dreams. However, I have to say that if I had been Alison, I’d probably have done the same. Maybe Alison put up with struggling with money when it was just her and Stephen, but once she was a mother, they had a little girl to think of, and she probably did what she thought best for Sophie. It’s sad that their marriage ended, but I can’t say I don’t commiserate with her.


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