3 out of 4 stars
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Not So Common People is author T. Gamache’s debut novel. If the title makes you think immediately of the 1990s Britpop band Pulp and their hit single Common People, then this just might be the right book for you.
Nathan Smythe is a thirty-year-old barista. He is single and shares a flat with his friends Claire and Frank. The first important thing to know about Nathan is that he owns 2,137 vinyl records. The second important thing to know is that he stores them in alphabetical order. Nathan is someone who needs music and order in his life. He is OCD and is uncomfortable in crowds. Actually, he is uncomfortable with people generally, with a handful of exceptions. The exceptions, on good days, are the people referred to in the title. These are Claire and Frank, plus his family: his parents, his older brothers Graham and Calvin, and his younger sister Marcie.
Nathan is addicted to music. If he isn’t listening to it or talking about it, he is busy compiling his next playlist. His job at the coffee shop simply supports this habit. Nathan loves his life, but he does worry that maybe he hasn’t really got a grip on the whole ‘adult thing.' Then, within a few weeks, everything changes. His siblings face sudden, life-changing events. His roommates, too, are making choices that add to Nathan’s rising stress level. And then there’s Anne, who drops into Nathan’s life and turns it upside down. How can he cope with all this drama? Is there a playlist that can help him be the adult he really needs to be at this time?
This is a warm, witty book that I enjoyed from start to finish. It is an easy read and seems much shorter than its 230-odd pages, perhaps because Nathan’s first-person narration of the story makes it feel like we’re not so much reading about him as listening to him. His self-deprecating, humorous commentary on life not only raises a smile but also gives us an insight into the other characters. The characters in the book are all essentially likable, so time spent in their company passes quickly. I also enjoyed the many references to music that underscore this novel. Possibly that’s because I like most of the music being referenced: Nathan’s taste for Britpop, for The Beatles, U2, The Smiths, and The Clash, are all bands I can relate to. Younger readers or readers with different musical tastes may not like this aspect of the book quite so much.
There are a few errors scattered around the book, but these are neither major nor distracting. Indeed, there is not too much that I disliked about this feel-good novel. I normally avoid first-person narratives if I can, as they usually mean that only one character, the narrator, ends up being fully developed. While Nathan obviously takes center-stage here, the other characters are more than just bit-part players. The author deserves some kudos for making this work.
I am giving this novel three out of four stars, deducting one point for the errors already mentioned. The fact that the story is told from a male perspective means that the book will probably appeal more to male readers than to women. However, the book also has something of a rom-com feel about it too, so female readers should not dismiss it. The book contains adult themes: same-sex relationships feature prominently, while there a few references to sex, together with one or two curse words. There are also a few disparaging remarks made by Nathan about his brother Calvin’s religiosity, but these are directed at Cavin personally rather than at believers generally. If none of that bothers you, then I can recommend this book as one to put a smile on your face.
Not So Common People
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