Review of Dolly Alderton’s “Good Material”: A Detailed Look at a Breakup
Andy Dawson and Jen Bennett are a couple in their mid-30s who appear to be very devoted to each other. Andy is a likable standup comedian who is not quite at the top of his game, while Jen is a successful corporate professional. After being together for four years, they take a trip to Paris, but out of nowhere – at least from Andy’s perspective – Jen tells him that they should break up. Reminiscent of the works of Helen Fielding, Richard Curtis, and Nick Hornby, Dolly Alderton’s heartwarming and generous second novel delves into Andy’s downward spiral after the breakup.
The exploration of a relationship ending and its consequences is bold, not for Alderton’s choice to use a male perspective for most of the text. The difficulty lies in the constant narrowness of the situation she presents: the intense focus on Andy and his flawed efforts to comprehend the sudden upheaval of his life, to overcome his sadness, and to win back his love.
The first part of the story focuses on Andy’s messy and sad drinking habits, as well as his constant checking of his ex’s Instagram page and her new boyfriend. He also meets up with friends who offer little emotional support, as Andy’s mood continues to decline. In an effort to improve himself, he starts a rigorous health regimen under the guidance of a hilariously oblivious and overly enthusiastic personal trainer. While the limited scope of the story could become dull or heavy-handed, Alderton effectively captures the tunnel vision and fixation that comes with sudden heartbreak, using both humor and understanding. This creates a sense of connection with self-deprecating Andy as he navigates from one mishap to another, and this empathy is further complicated and tested when Jen, towards the end of the book, finally gets to tell her side of the story.
Similar to its forerunner, Ghosts, the overall setting is a metropolitan, millennial, and heterosexual one. Once again, Alderton proves to be a keen and thorough observer of this particular world. In the kitchen of Andy’s new love interest after Jen, he takes notice of “a partially consumed, uncorked bottle of red wine, designated as ‘cooking wine’ and likely never to be used”; Andy has a fondness for watching shows with titles such as “Help, I’m a Hoarder!”. Notably, this world is divided by the contrast between characters who have children and those who do not, and both Andy and Jen navigate this social minefield with unexpected grace and openness.
The group of people they are targeting has a problem with conflicting opinions between different generations. Both baby boomers and Generation Z individuals challenge Andy’s beliefs about love and relationships. Andy seeks comfort in returning to his childhood home in the suburbs, where he has important discussions with his mother about dealing with rejection. These conversations help him change his perspective and reconsider his self-awareness and goals for the future.
There is much to appreciate in this piece, particularly Alderton’s willingness to include some ambiguity in the narrative. While Andy’s sadness is portrayed with compassion, it also tends to veer towards self-pity. Alderton has a knack for writing authentic dialogue – the banter between Andy and his friends is snappy, sharp, and relatable, filled with inside jokes about aging and detailed analyses of the Killers’ hit song “Mr. Brightside.” Additionally, Alderton excels at creating memorable supporting characters, such as Emery, Andy’s more successful comedian friend who adds a comically absurd energy to the story. Morris, Andy’s eccentric landlord, could easily carry his own sitcom.
The Good Material does not present new perspectives on current sexual issues or shed light on the complexities of dating in one’s mid-30s. Including more of Jen’s intriguing and troubled story could have added an interesting contrast to the novel’s lively and distinctly British humor. However, the overall impression is that the writer is confidently finding her stride and has a firm grasp on her subject matter.