Good Material, Dolly Alderton’s latest novel, isn’t necessarily a typical Lazy Women read. The story is written from the perspective of a guy, Andy, who is navigating heartache after having lost the love of his life, Jen.
On return from a theoretically romantic trip to Paris, complete with champagne on the Eurostar from London, Andy is knocked sideways as Jen announces they can no longer be together. And so begins Andy’s journey of desperately trying to understand why this is the case, what can be done about it, and learning to live life differently.
But it’s the introspection, hilarious and heart-warming dynamics between friends, and questioning of what it means to be our best selves that makes it every inch an ideal Lazy Woman read.
Not to mention the plot twist at the end, where we get to read Jen’s side of the story.
The story begins with a tongue-in-cheek listicle that is reminiscent of Everything I Know About Love, Alderton’s 2018 seminal text on female friendship, and the woes and romanticism of dating through our teens and twenties. Although this, her fourth book, is a complete work of fiction, at times, I couldn’t help but wonder how much certain thoughts and feelings expressed by the characters had been influenced by Alderton’s own experiences. However, on an episode of the Shameless podcast, she talks of the men she interviewed as research for this book, as well as the influence of the male psyche being so prominent in mainstream culture. There were moments when I found myself reading the book with her voice in my head, so familiar it felt from the days of The High Low podcast (RIP <3). But in that sense, the book challenged me.
Good Material wasn’t something I felt I could just flick through in a few days without a second thought (though perhaps that was partly because I knew I’d be writing this review). Instead, throughout the book, I forced myself to create Andy’s character in my head and give him the autonomy he deserves as a creation of Alderton’s, not a mouthpiece for her. I couldn’t take an instant dislike to Jen just because I was reading about it from Andy’s perspective, could I?
It made me consider how men think about love, relationships, and sex.
How are we so used to the stereotype of women often dissecting every inch of their lives over cocktails or spa days with friends, while men must just not have the same level of intense through processing, right? Or what if they do, but the same opportunities, or low barriers, don’t exist for them to express their ruminations?
Throughout the novel, we are given precious insight into Andy’s brain, his complex ruminations, but perhaps best of all, his witticisms (he is also a stand-up comic), which did on occasion make me laugh out loud. The quick and subtle comedy of Good Material even manages to be a step up on Ghosts. The dialogue is quick, banterful and clever, though the British-ness of it may at times be less familiar for international readers.
Those familiar with Alderton’s work may feel, as I did, that she has pushed herself to do something fresh with this book, and it’s paid off. The characters felt real, comparable to people we all know (ourselves included) and are not always likeable. Andy’s self-destructive behaviour in the early stages of the break-up is sometimes annoyingly hard to read – “Just pull yourself together,” I wanted to shout, as he spent over £100 on bottles of Jen’s perfume that he later threw in a canal as some sort of drunken, misplaced ritual of letting go. The only benefactors that day were the shareholders at Boots.
Other moments are incredibly touching. Observing male friends supporting each other in the ways that they know how. Exploring how child-free adults interact, lovingly and playfully, with the children of their friends. That in itself is actually another theme explored in the story, particularly as we get towards the end and learn more about Jen’s take. What is it to feel broody? To know when is the right time for children? To expect that time to come for every woman – and if it doesn’t? What is it to want to live a different life, one that doesn’t necessarily revolve around, or even involve, a partner? And what is it to be going through this reckoning in one’s mid-30s, when friends and family are seemingly settled and know how their life is going to look? In a word – hard, is what it is.
This is a story about heartache and heartbreak, and there is nothing particularly special about it. Jen and Andy are normal people with normal lives, working through pressures from family, navigating career ups and downs, and, you know, having heated ideological debates after one too many glasses of wine. One of them realises being together isn’t something they want anymore, and the other is taken by surprise that takes months, if not years, to heal from. But the story-telling skills Alderton possesses to share this ordinary tale with us is something special. She implores us to want to know more about the characters – and after reading the final chapter, which steered the story in a way I hadn’t been expecting, I wanted to turn the book over and start again to explore how I might read it differently knowing what I had learnt in the those final few pages.
Good Material is ideal fodder for cosying up on these creeping autumn nights, candlelit, blanket laid and a mug of tea or wine glass in hand, as you live your best lazy life.
It’ll make your commute go faster, offer an interesting discussion over brunch with the girls, and make excellent company while lounging on the beach, should you be getting in a bit of winter sun. If you’ve never read Alderton’s work before, this novel is a good reason to support your local bookstore, whether picking up a copy for yourself or a friend who you think will enjoy this read. And if you’re already a fan, you’ll be glad to add this to your Dolly Alderton collection – not least because the book itself is dedicated to her “queen of hearts”: Lauren.
No, not me, but Alderton’s long-time friend and professional partner in crime, with whom she has shared much love and laughter. At the time of recording the aforementioned Shameless podcast episode, Dolly shared that Lauren had recently faced some unexpected health challenges. As difficult as these had been to address, for both friends, one positive that had emerged was a commitment to spend more time telling each other what they mean to each other. Telling of the love that exists between them, that is often unspoken but always strong.
And so, in a fitting tribute to this book, I will leave you with the encouragement to make sure your queen of hearts, dear reader, knows how much you love her (or him) too.
Written by Lazy Lauren. Find her most recent articles here.