The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P by Adelle Waldman
About halfway through Adelle Waldman’s hotly tipped debut The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P, the title character, himself a soon-to-be-successful first time novelist, tells his girlfriend how his book came about. He had planned to write a fictional version of his own childhood, but had only found his stride when he’d cut out his “insufferable” protagonist (i.e. himself) to focus more closely on his family. In Waldman’s book, unfortunately, we’re stuck with this charmless character and his awful friends for the duration.
Having recently sold his first novel, Nate contentedly bums around on the literary fringes of hipster Brooklyn with a coterie of journalists and aspirant authors. They debate gender bias in the publishing industry, or adolescent pseudo-Marxist thought problems, but more than anything else they discuss their own and one another’s romantic entanglements. “Can we please talk about something other than dating?” asks Nate at one point. “Not really” is the dispiriting answer offered by the rest of the book.
The bulk of the story is taken up by Nate’s relationship with Hannah, which is complicated in all the non-obvious ways that bad couplings always are, and leads to much dull anxiety on the part of both characters. Whole chapters are devoted to recapping and analysing our hero’s past liaisons in minute detail, without achieving any revelations or insights. It’s as if someone novelised an abandoned Woody Allen script by removing all of the good dialogue and most of the plot and dragged it south across the Brooklyn Bridge.
As if these characters weren’t enough of a disincentive to keep reading, Waldman’s ungainly prose smothers whatever remaining momentum the novel might have had. There are paragraphs full of sentences like this one: “He felt as if she was taking his measure, according to some exacting standard of her own devising.” While elsewhere characters are described as “smart but not ‘smart’ ”.
All of this would be permissible if not enjoyable in a Cosmopolitan-endorsed piece of beach-towel fiction. But Waldman’s novel seems instead to be attempting to give us a nuanced psychological insight into human relationships and an astute picture of New York’s intellectual life. The result is a stupid person’s “clever” book.
The editorial unit
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P is published by William Heinemann at the hardback price of £14.99, for further information visit here.