• Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Book Review: Good Material by Dolly Alderton

ByMia Siitonen

Nov 28, 2023
good material by Dolly Alderton book cover

Good Material, Dolly Alderton’s second novel, is a bittersweet deep dive into heartbreak. It follows thirty-something, mildly successful comedian Andy as he tries to process and understand why his long-term girlfriend, Jen, has broken up with him. Set across the months following the breakup, the reader bears witness to the painful consequences of the end of the relationship, as Andy – still hopelessly, unquestionably, in love with Jen – struggles to adjust to life without her.

As might be expected of a book about heartbreak, Good Material is at times heart wrenchingly sad, particularly as Andy does not take easily to his newfound singledom. Readers are taken along on the universally familiar path of ‘The Madness’; an aptly-named reference to the confusing, directionless time following a breakup. In Andy’s case, it constitutes a blindly impulsive period of being able to speak of little else, day drinking alone in his hometown, crash dieting and dating someone much younger. Clichéd? Perhaps, but for good reason, and Good Material manages to offer an endearingly self-aware, often refreshing perspective to familiar subject matter.

The book marks a significant break away from Dolly Alderton’s previous writing. Consistently labelled “the voice of a generation” or compared to the late great Nora Ephron, Alderton’s bestselling memoir, Everything I Know About Love, earnt her a reputation as one of the best loved, relatable voices for millennial and Gen Z women. Alderton has spoken about the privilege but also challenge of expectation that comes with such accolades, as well as the struggle to diversify away from writing about the topics for which she is so well-known: growing up, your twenties and female friendship. 

With Good Material she achieves this: the book still feels characteristic of Alderton’s style, but by writing a male protagonist in his thirties, she is able to tackle a different point of view and one distinctly separate from her own. Acknowledged at the end of the book are several friends who are credited for their help in creating the character of Andy. One such mention goes to the novelist David Nicholls, an accreditation that immediately makes sense, as Good Material does indeed feel in a way reminiscent of Nicholls’ own books – natural, warm and funny in its storytelling, and gentle in its handling of human emotion and vulnerability. 

Good Material succeeds in striking a balance between nostalgic melancholy and sentimental humour. Andy’s career as a middlingly successful comedian is important in doing this, but it is Alderton’s characteristically light and zippy prose that shines through. The dialogue is exceptional throughout, as is Alderton’s ability to capture the intricacies of feelings and emotions, through attention paid to minute, seemingly unimportant observations, which in the end is what wins the reader over and sets Good Material apart from the crowd.

Image courtesy of Mia Siitonen.