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3.7 out of 5 stars174
3.7 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 11 June 2005
I am a sucker for a good modern, intelligent, well-written comedy. And I use the word 'sucker' advisedly because I have been let down by so many blurbs on the back of books which promise all of the above as well as the ubiquitous 'laugh out loud' lie. Well I can genuinely say David Nicholls is in danger of making the phrase 'laugh out loud' credible again.
I loved his first book - Starter for Ten - about one student's burning quest to get on University Challenge and I feared he could not match that with this, his second novel. But he has - big style.
This is another excellent, stylish modern day comedy which 'stars' a young, desperate-for-success jobbing actor whose only real claim to fame is his name - Steve McQueen. That, however, seems the only way he will ever sees 'his' name in lights as he spends his days as an understudy for a God-like West End actor and fills in with excruciating bit-parts in children's videos and even as a 'what's my motivation' dead person in a TV murder plot.
This is a lovely book which seems very knowing about the 'luvvy' acting world without ever patronising it and is full of great characters and genuinely funny set-pieces. And for once this is a comedy book that does exactly what it says on the tin - it is witty, warm and very, very readable. David Nicholls is a writer to cherish. Already.
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It's always difficult reviewing a book which lists all of the critics positive reviews on the jacket, but here goes. I was interested in this book because I've seen the film of 'Starter for 10' and am now reading the book, but decided to read Nicholls' follow up first to see if he's a good a writer as he's cracked up to be and my verdict is that he's excellent.

The plot of this novel focuses around a kind of anti-hero, struggling actor/understudy/dead body/dancing squirrel Stephen C. McQueen (the C is at the insistence of his agent so he's not confused by the late movie star)and his relationship with his leading man, the 12th sexiest man on the planet, Josh Harper, and Stephen's growing attraction to Josh's wife Nora. In many ways, it serves as a pastiche of celebrity culture and exposes it for what it really is and the juxtoposition between the nerdy, introspective and slightly prissy Stephen and the 'action man' Josh is nicely crafted. I do think Nicholls has a talent for writing dialogue which many authors lack and this can be attributed to his concurrent career as a screenwriter.

I loved this book and was disappointed when it finished. I'd recommend it to all as it's such a good read.
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on 21 July 2006
...but I'll be generous, as this is a very likeable book which both I and my wife enjoyed - indeed, I stayed up late last night to finish it, which must be a good sign.

And yet, I can see why people have been a bit grudging in their praise. It doesn't quite fully satisfy somehow - possibly it could do with editing down a little, and the ending isn't as clear-cut as you might like. The whole thing feels a little out of focus, and doesn't make the most of the situations and characters that are created.

But there is a lot more good stuff than bad, and it's very well-written. I think what chiefly drew me back each night is the central character and the pleasant, sincere, knowing authorial voice that Mr Nicholls creates for him... and a sneaking empathy for the fear of never quite "making it" that all of us late thirty-something males have.

Buy it, because it's still better than 90% of the other "light entertainment" books out there.
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on 1 August 2011
David Nicholls writes a great Everyman story, and I can't understand the reviews that say his hero doesn't do anything. Yes, he's a man-child living in a state of suspended animation - but that's the whole point, isn't it? He's been chasing the dream so long he doesn't realise it isn't his real dream any more. Josh has achieved the dream, and he also has the real prize - Nora. Through experience and disappointment, Stephen learns that the prize has greater value than the dream. It's a great story, told with great humour and humanity.

I'm annoyed with all the negative comparisons with One Day. The Understudy is properly funny, with some great lines, brilliant set pieces and characters you can actually see.

There are perhaps a couple of loose ends left hanging - for example, by the end Nora still doesn't know about the Deal. What happens when she finds out? But it's a great read, really gripping and literally knuckle-biting at times
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on 4 September 2010
Having just finished the magical 'One Day', my first experience of Nicholls, and been left bereft when the characters left me at the end of the final page I was eager to read the rest of his books. I'm an actress in my mid-twenties and the blurb of 'The Understudy' was instantly incredibly appealing. I thought, "this has been written for me!". But I was wrong. Here are the problems that, as a jobbing actress, I had with 'The Understudy'. Stephen McQueen's career doesn't look that bad and his dwellings don't add up....yes, to any reader the prospect of sitting in a room for months on end never getting to play a part that a world-famous film-star is playing each night looks bleak but the fact is it's a job many young actors (and at 32, Stephen McQueen is still a young actor) would kill and maim for, and the salary of that combined with all the other bits and pieces that are mocked throughout the book (playing a singing squirrel, playing a asthamtic cyclist) don't actually add up to a laughable CV. This is something that the former-actor Nicholls would know. The description of his horrible fridgeless bedsit is very funny but it's just too awful for someone on a West End salary (which would be a minimum of £500 a week) to continue living (it sounds like a £165 a week bedsit to me....). So as dull as all these problems I had with the book are to hear about, roll your eyes all you want, they were little niggles I just couldn't quite get past as I read the trials and tribulations of Stephen McQueen. There is plenty to like, maybe even love, in the book. The dialogue is exceptional (it's no surprise that Nicholls has written for the screen), the characters are beautifully drawn and there IS plenty of truth in the piece. However, the book just sort of.....ends.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS!!!! And Stephen's big break is painful, really sore because THAT didn't make sense either. Yes, he'd painted the one night he was going to go on as Byron out in his mind to be his 'big break' which all actors know is a little far-fetched, but it is nonetheless a break. Look at Laura Michelle Kelly, whose career took off after she understudied Martine Mccutcheon in 'My Fair Lady'? The role of understudy is one not to be sniffed at but many people not in the know do, and many more will now following Nicholls' book. Maybe it's just because I'm an actress but I just wanted more for Stephen than the book offered at the end. This is, after all, a work of fiction and it was just all too bleak for him, right up until the end. The pace never really gets going and it really needs to.

I feel like all I've done is criticise this book. It's just that, after 'One Day' it had a lot of reality and heartbreak and laughter to deliver and it so nearly DID deliver on all 3 counts....it only just missed.
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on 24 June 2005
This is my first Amazon review - I just had to write it as this book is just so brilliant. I thoroughly enjoyed Starter for Ten, Nicholls' previous book, but this was even better.
The original plot is a page turner, and it is genuinely laugh out loud funny. I have never read a book described as "laugh out loud funny" and actually laughed out loud - until this one. Some of his descriptions of the characters are wonderful. He mentions little mannerisms which just sum them up so completely.
This is a wonderful light read. Buy it.
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VINE VOICEon 28 September 2005
I read this having enjoyed David Nicholls' previous book Starter For Ten. I was not disappointed. The setting and characters have changed, but the jokes are as funny as ever.
It's a comedy of embarrassment, which will have you squirming in your seat, while, yes, laughing out loud. It's easy to like and empathise with the central character Stephen McQueen. His plight is poignant. By telling his story the book asks: Should you follow your dreams? Or should you 'sell out' and get a proper job? Is there more dignity dressing up as a squirrel and singing educational songs or dressing in a suit and tie and commuting to an office everyday?
The book doesn't give any answers, but this central dilemma gives the humour a solid base - and will give you something to think about long after you've finished this book. As a father I enjoyed the scenes between Stephen and his daughter. It struck a chord and I found myself asking if what I do will make my daughter proud when she is the same age? Nicholls' writes very visually and it's no surprise to discover there are plans for film versions of both his novels.
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on 27 March 2010
I have mixed feelings about this book; a mix of what all the other reviews have said really.
The main character Stephen McQueen, an actor with not very many credible credits to his name falls for the wife of the lead in a play, ex wife and child live in a nice big house while he lives more or less in squalor.
You hope all the way through that SOMETHING good is going to happen to him; he is understudy to possibly the most vile actor on the planet, but no, it all ends rather flatly really and we're left wondering what he does end up doing with his life.
Having said that, it's still an easy book to read and there are some really good passages within the book. Having read the other 2 books by David Nicholls and loved them, he is an author I would recommend but perhaps Starter for Ten and One Day have more characters to be identified with. Not many people know actors whereas the other characters he has written about could be any of us who were born in the mid to late 60s which is the appeal of the other 2 novels for me anyway.
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on 14 November 2015
There were a couple of laugh out loud moment in this book, but overall I found it hit and miss and the protagonist himself rather tragic and pathetic. I'm not saying that all lead characters have to be totally likeable (Dex from 'One Day' was an d*ck, but still found myself rooting for him), but I found it hard to believe that anyone would let themselves be caught up in such a situation AND stay in it instead of telling both Josh and Nora to take a running jump. And whilst I didn't want a predictable happy ending, this one was rather depressing really. Not a book to read if you're single, it'll only make you want to stay well away from narcissistic a-holes and relationships!
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on 7 August 2015
The understudy by David Nicholls is pretty brilliant, not as brilliant as his one year but still brilliant. He manages to combine sometimes quite a depressing story line with humor.

Josh likes to say he put the funk in ‘functional’. Personally I think he just put the ass in ’embarrassing’, but, hey, what do I know?”
― David Nicholls, The Understudy

Nicholls hero in this book is not breezing through life unrealistically like you often find in books but is someone you could imagine existing.

Find the thing you love, and do it with all your heart, to the absolute best of your ability, no matter what people say.”

― David Nicholls, The Understudy

Stephen C McQueen is a struggling actor in his 30s (with an unfortunate name) who has never got his big break. He is recently divorced with a daughter and always seems to end up losing out to some good looking younger bloke. At the moment we join him he is an understudy for a Hollywood actor (Josh) also (12th sexiest man in the world) who seems to have it all. His ex wife doesn’t understand why he just doesn’t get an ordinary job.

For Stephen, London was less a city that never slept, more a city that got a good nine hours.”
― David Nicholls, The Understudy

Things get even more complicated for Stephen when he falls in love with Josh’s wife, Nora. Who turns out to be the opposite of what he expected a Hollywood wife to be. The ending isn’t cheesy, which I was relieved about as that would of really ruined the book for me!

They ended up in a amusement arcade on Old Compton Street, where Nora insisted Stephen join her on one of those dance-step machines, and as he stood next to her, stomping out a dance routine on the illuminated dance floor, he had a sudden anxiety that Nora might be one of those kooky, free-spirit types, the kind of irreverent life-force who, in the imaginary romantic comedy currently playing in his head, turns the hero’s narrow life upside down, etc., etc. The acid test for free-spirited kookiness is to show the subject a field of fresh snow; if they flop on their backs and make snow-angels, then the test is positive. In the absence of snow, Stephan resolved to keep an eye open for other tell-tale kookiness indicators: a propensity for wacky hats, zany mismatched socks, leaf-kicking, a disproportionate enthusiasm for karaoke, kite – flying and light-hearted shoplifting, the whole Holly Golightly act.”
― David Nicholls, The Understudy

The romance plays second fiddle in the book and it’s a better book because of it. Nicholls will have you laugh out loud and he makes you keep on reading and reading. This book deserves a four out of five stars.
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