The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P, by Adelle Waldman, is kinda like a modern day High Fidelity. Except with books, instead of music, and instead of the wonderfully lovable John Cusack, we have Nathaniel, a 30 year old literary yuppie, whom you want to slap. In the face. With a chair.
Set in present day, but with multiple flashbacks, Love Affairs tells the story of Nathaniel, a 30 year old who has had his first taste of literary fame, as he remembers past relationships, and why they went wrong. The beginnings of a relationship with Hannah, a woman described as ‘smart and nice’ or ‘nice and smart’, makes Nathaniel question whether he is the ‘relationship type’.
Nathaniel is, essentially, a 21st century knob. He and his friends are the typical middle to upper-middle class type of adults who believe that the less ‘mainstream’ you are, the better. After all, it isn’t enough to be smart, attractive and successful, but you have to be interested in obscure music, literature and film to REALLY belong.
Part of me wanted to be part of Nate’s circle of friends, if only to discuss some of the wonderful ideas and theories that they discuss. I’m always up for a bit of philosophy, politics and I definitely enjoy having a chinwag with someone else about great literature. Yet…as the novel went on, I realised that Nate and his friends hide behind this facade to show that perhaps they aren’t very nice people. While it may come across as sophisticated to talk about existential and racialism, would you really want to hang out with people who are ‘above’ discussing mainstream culture, what’s been happening with your family, or even, you know, shoes. I love shoes. Would you really want to be friends with people who judge you for reading Dan Brown? If so, enjoy being surrounded by wet blankets.
Before I read this book, I noticed that most of the reviews on Goodreads were either two or four stars, with many arguing that they just couldn’t stand Nate. Which I completely understand. Nate is a white, middle-class male who believes he understands the ramifications of a sexist society, yet refuses to let his girlfriend know what he is thinking, because he is annoyed that her self-doubt makes her unsexy. He feels terrible about all the disadvantaged and homeless people living in his neighbourhood, but does nothing to help their situation. In short, Nate is a self-absorbed twat.
In saying that, I loved reading this book, partially because it was so accurate, yet so chilling, considering that it is written by a woman. I became totally absorbed in reading about Nate and his awful, yet interesting, friends and much as I hate to admit it, I think it’s because I would be somewhat dazzled by their beauty and intellect. Would I want to be friends with these people? Probably not, but I enjoyed being in their world for a few hundred pages.
Overall, the only criticism I had for this book was the ending – I thought that things turned out too smoothly for Nate, who had treated the women and the family in his life terribly throughout the entire novel. For things to end perfectly, with no lesson learnt, seemed like a let down.
If you’re into literature, High Fidelity, laughing at pretentious wankers or want to move to Brooklyn, I’d suggest reading The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. Although, ironically enough, Nate and his friends wouldn’t be caught dead with a book like this. Perfect.
Have you read The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P? Are you a ‘literary snob’? Let me know!