Monday, 7 October 2019

Nineteen in '19: Starting Over

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading nineteen books in 2019. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

13/19: Starting Over by Tony Parsons

The blurb: This is the story of how we grow old – how we give up the dreams of youth for something better – and how many chances we have to get it right.

George Bailey has been given the gift we all dream of – the chance to live his life again.

After suffering a heart attack at the age of 42, George is given the heart of a 19-year-old – and suddenly everything changes…

He is a friend to his teenage son and daughter – and not a stern Home Secretary, monitoring their every move.

He makes love to his wife all night long - instead of from midnight until about five past. And suddenly he wants to change the world, just as soon as he shakes off his hangover.

But George Bailey discovers that being young again is not all it is cracked up to be – and what he actually wants more than anything in the universe is to have his old life back.

The review: as you will all know already, Parsons' writing career began as a journo for the NME, where he also met, married and later divorced fellow "hip, young gunslinger" Julie Birchill. He wrote a number of books throughout the Seventies and Eighties but only really achieved mainstream success at the tail end of the Nineties, with Man and Boy. In part, I think, this took off as a sort of "blokes want to read too" reaction to the emergence of chick-lit as a thing - lad-lit, maybe, a phenomenon that benefited Parsons and plenty of others (Mike Gayle and John O'Farrell to name but two). Whatever, it sold by the truck load, as did the sequel, and lots of other books with similar covers. The last Parsons I read was My Favourite Wife, probably about ten years ago.

And so to Starting Over, a book I picked up for free at a sort of "bring a book, take a book" swapping initiative. In other words, immediately not a book I would spend money to read, but something I was prepared to take a punt on. And it's alright: a perfectly serviceable story, told at a pace that keeps the pages turning, a bit predictable in places but generally... alright. What stops it being more? Well, I like a story where the author maps out the dots and then leaves the reader to join them up. There are times here when Parsons doesn't just join them up for you, he does it with a Sharpie. It's efficient storytelling, maybe, but is it effective? Not for me.

Oh, and the predictability. I get that it's going to have a feelgood element. A lot of people, even lad-lit readers, want some kind of a happy ending. But even when things are going awry for our hero, at no point did I feel that they would end badly, ultimately. And if you're in any doubt about the Capra-esque nature of this story, or Parsons' efforts to produce something of that ilk, I refer you to the protagonist's name... But for fables to work you need archetypes as the lead characters, not clichés, and there are times when Tony treads the wrong side of that divide.

If I'm sounding too down on this book, let me remedy that by saying that it is far from all bad - Parsons writes about being a father as well as anyone. Here, laying out how it feels to be a dad, and what it's like to watch your kids grow up and move beyond what you know of them, this is where Parsons' somewhat on-the-nose style actually works - he lays it out plain. This is how it feels. But since Man and Boy it does feel somewhat like Tony is recycling those same feelings, just ascribing them to new characters. But anyway...

The bottom line: perfectly serviceable, somewhat predictable, slightly forgettable and too overt... neither evolutionary nor revolutionary but essentially a harmless, throwaway read that moves along at a decent pace.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★☆☆☆


  1. Love Tony Parsons books but not read this one yet. The last one I acquired by him is Men From The Boys and it got the thumbs up from me. One of my all-time favourite books is Stories We Could Tell about that one night in London in 1977 - I re-read it when I started my blog as it conjured up a lot of memories. I will return with my assessment of Starting Over when I've read it.

    As my blogging output has gone down this year, I've ended up reading a lot more and a new discovery for me is Jenny Éclair - Turns out she's also a very talented author. At different stages in life we identify with the stories written by authors of our own age and I think both Tony and Jenny are around the same age as myself. Sorry you were a bit underwhelmed by this latest offering from Tony.

    1. What I haven't really conveyed in this review is that this book started well but deteriorated. Towards the end it got quite fragmented, almost a parody of his own style. I mean - I read it, I got some enjoyment out of it, but....