In 1983, Nora Ephron wrote the ultimate break-up novel Heartburn. Based on the dissolution of her own marriage, Ephron aimed to “convert an event that seemed to me hideously tragic at the time to a comedy.”
Exactly 40 years later, British writer Dolly Alderton has done this same thing. Inspired by her own heartbreak after a painful break-up, she embarked on Good Material. “I took one of the worst years of my life and made something funny out of it,” she told The Times in a recent interview.
But where Alderton has flipped the script is by making her narrator not some Bridget Jones type with permanently smudged mascara and a penchant for gulping wine, but a man named Andy. A man who, post-break-up, visits prosecco bars at 10 in the morning and can’t stop listening to Bon Iver.
A man who, post-break-up, visits prosecco bars at 10 in the morning and can’t stop listening to Bon Iver
It must be said that when he’s not waiting for pubs to open or stalking his ex-girlfriend on Instagram, he’s the kind of guy who puts his friends’ kids to bed and tries his hardest to be vulnerable with his blokey mates. It’s hard not to like him.
A barely successful comedian who describes his role in shows as “the sagging middle…the forgettable filler to pad out the evening”, Andy is consumed by what he refers to as ‘the madness’.
You might be familiar with it. A time after the dissolution of a relationship when you find yourself engaging in bizarre and destructive behaviour including but not limited to: buying all of the bottles of perfume your former partner wore at your local pharmacy to minimise the chance of you having to smell it again; throwing said perfume bottles in a river after purchasing them; watching daytime television; and generally questioning how everyone else’s life matured into homeownership and self-actualisation while you’re living on a canal boat with dodgy electrics and a leaky roof wondering who you are.
A welcome reminder that complicated emotions aren’t a gendered experience so much as a human one
It’s not as though heartbreak has never been explored from the male perspective before (pop culture has been obsessed with High Fidelity for decades now after all), but it is a welcome reminder that complicated emotions aren’t a gendered experience so much as a human one. Also, Alderton clearly got the memo about no more sad girl books.
There were parts of the book that didn’t resonate with me; I didn’t always buy into Andy’s mates’ reluctance to engage in earnest chat about their feelings (their response instead is to order more shots), but maybe my male friends are simply more evolved.
What was refreshing was the reason behind the break-up in the first place. It turns out that Jen, Andy’s ex, thinks she might be happier on her own. As in, not in a relationship with anyone. She has a healthy suspicion of marriage and her role in it. It’s hard not to like her.
“For every chatty Friday-night dinner, there was a meal where it felt like we had nothing to say to each other. For every fun pub session, there was a drunken argument. For every night we had sex, there were five nights where we lay in bed on our phones not speaking… Was this a relationship? Was this what being in love was? Is this what all my friends had accepted as their happy-ever-after?”
She has a healthy suspicion of marriage and her role in it
Of course, for some people, the ‘everydayness of marriage’ (another Ephron offering) is exactly what being in love is all about. I’ll let you guess where Andy sits on the matter.
With Alderton’s trademark emotional intelligence, wit and relatability, Good Material reassures us that things that feel excruciating when they’re happening will come to seem okay – perhaps even funny – in good time.