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Starter for Ten [Paperback]

David Nicholls
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (188 customer reviews)
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Book Description

19 July 2004

It's 1985 and Brian Jackson has arrived at university with a burning ambition - to make it onto TV's foremost general knowledge quiz. But no sooner has he embarked on 'The Challenge' than he finds himself falling hopelessly in love with his teammate, the beautiful and charismatic would-be actress, Alice Harbinson.

When Alice fails to fall for his slightly over-eager charms, Brian comes up with a foolproof plan to capture her heart once and for all. He's going to win the game, at any cost, because - after all - everyone knows that what a woman really wants from a man is a comprehensive grasp of general knowledge . . .

STARTER FOR TEN is a comedy about love, class, growing-up and the all-important difference between knowledge and wisdom. Are you up to the challenge of the funniest novel in years?

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Product details

  • Paperback: 473 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks, London (19 July 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0340734876
  • ISBN-13: 978-0340734872
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (188 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,779 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Nicholls trained as an actor before making the switch to writing. His TV credits include the third series of Cold Feet, Rescue Me, and I Saw You, as well as a much-praised modern version of Much Ado About Nothing and an adaptation of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, both for BBC TV. David has continued to write for film and TV as well as writing novels, and he has twice been nominated for BAFTA awards.

David's bestselling first novel, STARTER FOR TEN, was selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club in 2004, and David has written the screenplays for film versions of both STARTER FOR TEN (released in 2006, starring James McAvoy) and THE UNDERSTUDY (not yet released). His third novel, ONE DAY, was published in hardback in 2009 to extraordinary critical acclaim, and stayed in the Sunday Times top ten bestseller list for ten weeks on publication.

For further information, visit the author's website

Product Description

Amazon Review

Is David Nicholls' Starter for Ten a throwback? Many readers look back with nostalgia to a recent golden age of comic writing, when David Lodge, Malcolm Bradbury and Tom Sharpe were producing some achingly funny work, with brilliantly realised characters. But Nicholls' sharp-as-nails novel has all the comic acumen of his great predecessors (along with their frequently-utilised university campus milieu) and, like Lodge and co., Nicholls writes real characters, not just boobies suitable only for pratfalls and sexual embarrassment. So even though the situations may often be ridiculous, we're still engaged by the protagonists.

Here, they are university student Brian Jackson and aspiring actress Alice Harbinson. Brian has arrived at his place of learning with a stronger desire than the acquisition of knowledge: he's going to be a star of TV's hottest quiz. But his progress on "The Challenge" is somewhat stymied by his growing desire for the beguiling Alice, struggling to make her mark as an actress. And as obstacles impede their affair, Brian becomes more and more convinced that only overwhelming success on the quiz show will win her.

What makes this novel such a delight, apart from the strongly drawn characters (both major and minor) is the coruscating dialogue: Nicholls writes comic dialogue like a dream, and his targets are many and varied: the idiocies of love and sex, the ludicrous pursuit of meaningless TV celebrity, fat cat businessmen lining their pockets--you name it, and it's probably here; Starter for Ten is a panoply of modern Britain with all its glories and excesses writ large. Nicholls wrote the third series of the hit TV series Cold Feet, which is as good a demonstration of his credentials as one could wish for. But Starter for Ten is his best work; there are no false notes struck by miscast actors, just prose that has a comic energy not often encountered these days. --Barry Forshaw --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Starter for Ten is the debut of the year; a recommendation repeated by all who come in contact with it ... Trust us, you'll love it (Arena)

Moving, wickedly observed, warm, uplifting and above all blindingly funny, Starter for Ten hits the spot time after time. Read this book (Jack)

A toe-curlingly embarrassing and cleverly observed comedy ... it'll have you wincing and laughing simultaneously. Fabulous (Company)

A bittersweet coming-of-age tale ... Brian conjure[s] up strong echoes of one of that era's literary heroes, Adrian Mole ... A fine, funny book (Heat)

Spry, affecting debut ... If it's possible to wince with your whole body, that broadly equates to my experience of reading it (Time Out)

A funny, touching novel reminiscent of the classic film Gregory's Girl with an authentic 1980s backdrop (Sunday Mirror)

Nicholls' portrayal of student affectations is accurate and funny ... clever and well-written (Independent)

Hilarious ... you won't be able to put it down (OK)

Painfully funny (Elle)

Warm and funny ... Hilarious (Daily Mirror)

Hugely (and deservedly) hyped ... Achingly funny (She)

I laughed out loud, I cringed in recognition, and more than once I paused in admiration at an observation so wry, so on the money, I wondered why it had never occurred to me before. There have been many pretenders to the throne of Hornby; David Nicholls is his legitimate heir (Mike Bullen, creator of 'Cold Feet')

For conjuring up all those cringeworthy moments of youth, this read is unrivalled (Glamour)

Relentlessly delightful (Mil Millington)

Absolutely fabulous ... brilliantly funny (Jenny Colgan, author of Amanda's Wedding)

Wonderfully written ... This is a lovely look back at a time when you were young enough to think that anything could happen (The Word)

What a delight... David Nicholls is enormously talented, he has an exquisite eye for details, humour and the ridiculous and he deserves every ounce of the huge success he will undoubtedly have with this pleasure of a book (Anna Maxted, author of Getting Over It)

I absolutely loved Starter for Ten (Emily Barr, author of Backpack)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'A' for entertainment value 25 Aug 2007
By International Cowgirl VINE VOICE
Way better than the cop-out film version, Starter for Ten is funny, clever and a wee bit more subversive than you might expect. Leading `man' Brian Jackson flounders about in the shallow end of adulthood as he sets out to make his mark at an unnamed university during the 1980s. Ah, the decade that taste forgot - cue deely boppers and Rubik's cubes, you might be thinking. But you'd be wrong. From right-on Rebecca to Brian's taste in music, even the archaic price of a dinner of two... Starter for Ten is resolutely `eighties', without ever forcing it down your throat.

There's nothing earth-shattering here, let's be honest. The slightly careworn plot tells the age-old tale of acne-strewn adolescent chasing unattainable blonde bombshell. But the joy of it is that Nicholls is brave enough to portray young Brian in all his spineless glory. Whether handling a prickly Glaswegian or offering solace to his oldest friend, when it comes to moral dilemmas our `hero' has a refreshing knack for doing the wrong thing. A man for whom the phrase `faux pas' was surely coined, he's also a dab hand at saying the wrong thing, to genuinely quite side-splitting effect. As you might expect from a TV scriptwriter, Nicholls has a real gift for dialogue. The ending isn't entirely unexpected, but gets a fresh twist that makes it happy and sad at the same time without selling out. Recommended.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Light weight but very funny 27 Oct 2004
By A Customer
This book is a quick and very funny read - I picked it up in an airport based on the fact that it was set in my era, and it was a light read for my journey.

I disagree with other reviewers comments that none of the characters are likeable. In particular, the main character, Brian, a spotty geek who tries too hard to be liked with his cringe-inducingly inapproprate jokes is engaging.

Set in the 1980s, Brian is off to university. He struggles to keep his drop-out school friends, fit in at university and pull the girl of his dreams by joining the University Challenge team. If only he were cool enough!

I won't give it away, but the book builds to a crescendo a couple of times with episodes that had me almost gasping with horror whilst nearly wetting myself laughing at the same time.

Would make a good TV drama.
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
By Amy
This book resonates with my own life and experiences on so many levels; an Essex girl myself, familiar with all Brian's Southend haunts, I read this book during my difficult first year at University. I would come back from lectures, deflated, disappointed and lonely, brew myself a cuppa, reach for the HobNobs, and curl up in my room with this book. So many of his experiences seemed to parallel my own, and perhaps this is why I found it so enjoyable (and laugh-out-loud funny), and certainly allowed me to look at my own situation in a less serious light. Two years on I'm writing my dissertation and about to graduate, but I still continue to recommend and lend this book to anyone who will listen.
Buy this book (along with 'Swallowing Grandma') for anyone you know who is about to leave for University, it will certainly cheer them up in their lonelier moments and help them feel less lonely and weird. :)
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK but not what I had hoped for 12 May 2004
The comments on the cover and most of the previous reviews led me to believe I was in for a right laugh with this one. It wasn't the case and only occasionally laughed but not out loud. It is a well written, intelligent book with some laughs and a harmless, light meandering story.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I did not like this book. At all. Perhaps I simply wasn't the intended audience for it, or I just don't understand this style of writing, but all I know is I found it to be a complete waste of my time.

Reading all the reviews, and even the synopsis of this book, I really thought I would like it. Brian falling in love with the University Challenge queen (as the synopsis says) gives us quite the false impression that Alice is some intelligent, sophisticated, savvy, smartass girl that will give Brian a hard time - which I would have looked forward to. Instead, she's simply a shallow, silly, superficial girl who uses her looks and what little charm she has to take advantage of those around her.

On the other hand, you have Rebecca, who is everything I thought Alice would be, but wasn't. Yet she's pushed to the background, completely neglected, even though she has what I thought the most intriguing back-story.

And Brian, sheesh, Brian. What an annoying little kid. I could not help imagining him as this short, ugly, 13-year-old-boy who is just hitting puberty - because that is how he acted throughout the story! I did not find him amusing, I did not find him entertaining, and I did not find him relatable at all!

Everything he said, everything he did, was just cringe-worthy. At one point, I seriously had to put the book down before I hurled it against the wall. The whole point of this story was this big University Challenge, and yet Nicholls chose to give that a total of...2 or 3 chapters out of 43, only one of which actually focused on the main competition, rushing us through the whole thing, and ending it with such distaste that I hated the book even more.

I don't see myself reading another Nicholls book, I guess his style isn't for me.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read!
I am one who will start reading a book, but never end up finishing it. However, that can't be said for Starter for Ten; I couldn't put it down! Read more
Published 19 days ago by Asa Johnson
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Extremely funny
Published 21 days ago by julia kim lewis
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 26 days ago by Jill Phipps
3.0 out of 5 stars It's okay.
I bought this book by accident (thinking it was something else) but I decided to give it a go. I had previously read 'One Day' and had quite high hopes for this book. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Charlie
3.0 out of 5 stars Aftter "One Day".............................
Having read 'One Day' first I decided to get David Nicholl's other couple of books. I was utterly captivated and moved by the style and story of the first book I read so I guess it... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Jelly-Bean
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun Read
Enjoyed reading this book - although female, I could still empathise with the narrator. Very amusing and entertaining. A bit like a grown up version of Adrian Mole.
Published 2 months ago by Rosemary Bryant
5.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read
Loved this book. Very well written and an interesting story line. Good fun. I'm not giving anything away about the story but if you have been to uni, would probably have a good... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Penylan
5.0 out of 5 stars Very funny book
I love this author.....once you open his books you don't want to put them down. His humour is my kind of humour and as this book was written in my teenage era (70's) I could... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Elizabeth A McLean
4.0 out of 5 stars Better Than One Day
Starter for Ten is a story of love and confusion and awkward adolescence, caught through the eyes of Brian Jackson, a nerdy, socially inept teenager, who starts his first term at... Read more
Published 5 months ago by George Kelly
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
Picked this up in an airport to pass the time on a long flight. Set in my era (the 80s), the central characters experiences of going to University will ring bells for many who... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Nick
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