Understudy – David Nicholls

“Yes, actors could be vain and pretentious, precious and pompous, sentimental and shallow, affected and lazy and arrogant, but it needn’t be that way, need it?

David Nicholls, the author of “Us”, have outdone himself in this book “Understudy” Its funny and yet sarcastic, light and yet melancholic and very entertaining. Human emotions have been portrayed as they are – very realistic – the empathy, the envy, the dark emotions and desperation of hanging on to the dreams.

Stephen McQueen (with a P and H) is a struggling actor, with 6 roles as dead body under his belt. What i found almost endearing is his “Nearly CV” – the CV that he had wished for and had almost materialised, if some of those situations had been different. He is a socially awkward, average looking and an under-confident actor, who dreams of being a star – not for the fame, “a nod of fame” would do for him, but for the acting itself, which he believes he is really good at.

Stephen is divorced, still in love with his ex-wife and has a huge need to impress his only child – Sophie. He is currently working as an understudy to a famous actor Josh Harper in a play based on Byron, yes, the poet. The emotions of Stephen when Josh is late, or not, as described are so surreal to any person in that position. Though he only wishes Josh to have an accident, making him unavailable for a short duration and giving Stephen his big chance – the emotion doesn’t get dark enough to wish for death.

Josh impulsively, invites Steve over to his place for a party. Steve, after spending the entire day visualising himself to be the centre of attention at the party, is disappointed and humiliated to discover that he was invited as a waiter and not a guest. Steve meets Josh’s wife Nora, who herself is an ex-waitress and almost falls in love with her at the first glance – almost.

In this book, we read about the world as perceived by Stephen, his daily trials and tribulations, his dreams and desires and his loneliness. Stephen, albeit reluctantly, strikes a deal with Josh to not say anything about his chance encounter on Josh’s indiscretion with a fellow female colleague at the play to Nora, in exchange for a chance to actually perform in the play for a couple of days. Stephen – either in his innocence or by the virtue of his need to justify and stay true to Nora, who he considers a friend, chooses to believe that Josh will change and such episode will not reoccur.

When Josh tells Stephen that he is expected to cover for another such encounter – as part of the deal, Stephen sells Josh out to a tabloid. Nora is hurt and takes refuge with Stephen. At the end of the book, we find Stephen fired from the play after his one and only performance for an audience of eleven people, including his ex-wife and daughter, and finally reconciled to the fact that he is done with acting and its time to find something else. Nora decides to accompany Stephen on his mad plan to spend a few days in Paris, though the future is yet to be determined.

I liked this book – it was interesting, fast and funny at times. The characters very relatable and emotions very realistic. Overall, a good read for a Sunday afternoon.

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