'[. . .] and the only thing that could make life any better for me now would be if an attractive woman came and sat opposite me, and said something like . . .
'"Excuse me, but I can't help noticing you're readingThe Faerie Queene. You're not by any chance on your way to read English at university, are you?"
[ . . .]
'And my conversation is so sophisticated and witty, and there's such tangible sexual electricity arcing between us, that by the time we pull into the station, Emily is leaning over the table, and coyly biting her plump bottom lip, and saying, "Look, Brian, I barely know you, and I've never said this to a man before, but do you think we could go to a hotel or something? It's just I don't think I can fight it any longer" and I acquiesce with a weary smile, as if to say "why must this happen every time I get on a train" and take her hand and lead her to the nearest hotel . . .
'Hang on a minute though. For a start, what am I going to do with all my luggage? I can hardly turn up at the hotel with two black bin-liners, can I? And then there's the cost [. . .]
'And by the time the train pulls into the station, I find myself actually relieved that Emily's only a figment of my imagination.' (25-6).
Between the Letters: Minxling: David Nicholls' novel Starter for Ten. [London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2003. A remarkable novel, and one that had me fascinated well before the aforequoted passage, in which we are introduced to the creative imagination of ambitious and clueless Brian, who enters university to read English for the glory and the girls, unaware of the vast depths of his own naive pretentiousness and desperate to win hearts and friends in the new and supposedly elite world of university studies]
Correct! Your bonus questions, for five points. First, around which British game show, formerly watched by Brian and his father, is Starter for Ten structured?
Between the Letters: Minxling: University Challenge.
Correct. Second, Brian meets two girls: a controversial revolutionary studying law, and a supposed beauty queen practicing drama [onstage and off]. What are their names, and which does Brian attempt to date?
Between the Letters: Minxling: Rebecca and Alice. Although Brian goes to visit an art gallery with Rebecca, his first proper date is a guilt date with the lovely Alice.
Correct. Finally, and for the lead, name one of Brian's many social gaffes.
Between the Letters: Minxling: Well, there are many, and they are mostly quite funny, but a particular favourite of mine is Brian's inability to headbutt correctly.
[Endearing, funny, and sometimes a bit depressing, Nicholls' novel begins as a mixture of character study and authorial wit, and although Nicholls' protagonist is perhaps a bit too-well-written to be fully believable, the general humor of the book, and the believability of Nicholls' eighteen-year-old wannabe-scholar know-it-all is remarkable (I may have met a Brian or two in my day). What is perhaps even more impressive is Nicholls' careful buildup of the novel into a mock coming-of-age epic, offering Brian everything he would need to succeed before appending one of the most infuriating conclusions I've ever read. Read this book, for sure: Nicholls' writing style is superb and his characterisations stunning, but beware the maddening ending].