With the release of her second novel Good Material, Dolly Alderton has returned to let us all know that it will, perhaps, all be alright in the end. Released on November 10th to instant success, Alderton expands on her brand of honesty, relatability and all things earnest with her most refined work yet. Covering the breakup of Andy and Jen from largely the male perspective, Alderton leads us through a dialogue heavy story from the summer of 2019 into the new year of 2020, creating a tale so rich with detail that audiences are bound to make comparisons to the writer’s own experiences.
Upon attending one of her release talks, Alderton made it clear that she remains aware of people’s tendency to assume her female characters are simply incarnations of herself. And this is a trap that comes with your first book being a memoir. Everything I Know About Love was released in 2018 to what can only be described as public adoration. Instantly cementing itself as the go to guide for all young people who find themselves stirred by the trials and tribulations that come with love in your 20s, both romantic and platonic, as well as the general hideousness of growing up, it makes sense that audiences may struggle to reconcile the fictional and non-fictional elements of Alderton after being so immersed in her world. In her decision to use the male perspective, Alderton has proven, not that we ever doubted her, that she is far from a one-trick-pony. As Andy’s life collapses around him he tries to make sense of what he deems nonsensical and makes a collection of terrible yet formative decisions along the way. Andy is written in such a way that I believe only a female writer, one with a true knack for observation like Alderton, can write a man. For Andy, the world and those around him form a community of audience members in which he constantly attempts to entertain, all the while hiding from the kind of self-reflection that may very well move him forward. Whilst this may align with much of the criticism that faces men by those who date them, Alderton is able to successfully tow the fine line of criticising classic male traits whilst also providing sympathy for the cards men draw by simply being men.
Throughout her novel, Andy commits himself to a number of physical changes whilst rarely informing his male friends of how terrible he truly feels. Moving into a houseboat, deciding he is going to develop a totally new physique, and hiring a therapist as a ruse to work out Jen’s inner thoughts, all further his emotional avoidance. Whilst the inner monologue of Andy is on the cusp of the next realm of relational grief, all he can muster to his male friends is sentiments of how fine he is; “I sit with my best listening face on, take none of it in, wondering why I thought this might make me feel better” Andy states to himself at the pub, surrounded by his male friends’ empty, disregarding placations.
In the latter section of the novel Alderton flips the narrative and presents the same, albeit streamlined, version of events from Jen’s perspective. Both nuanced and realistic, Jen’s version of the breakup is both refreshing and conclusive. Alderton veers away from villainising one person, instead understanding the intricacies of the two player game that is a relationship. Jen is equally as mournful, and whilst you were never led to believe she was the bad guy, it is cemented that much like real life breakups, no one really is.
With Good Material packaged into a neat 350 pages, Alderton has not just provided further insight into a universally difficult experience, but done so in an immensely readable and relatable fashion. To understand the difficult nuances of a failed relationship is one thing; but to articulate them in both an entertaining and consuming form is an act of real talent.
Words by Ben Carpenter
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