Cupid's Dart, by David Nobbs

Alan, a 58-year old philosophy don at Oxford, has chance encounter on a train with Ange, who's 24 and a self-confessed "darts groupie". Feeling attracted to her, he asks to see her again and against his expectations she agrees. This is the beginning of a curious kind of love affair that sees Alan attending the World Darts Championship, and Ange visiting Oxford and meeting some of the other philosophy professors.

In a preface to the book, Nobbs describes it as having started life as a 1981 TV play, and it does have that kind of feel. It's also unusual in that it's the first of his novels that's all written in the first person (I say that having at last managed to read even the hard-to-get-hold-of one).

When Sex and Other Changes came out, I read it very quickly and was a bit disappointed, and I've still not read Pratt a Manger because I'm trying to save it until I've re-read the other Pratt books, so I made an effort to spin this book out, but couldn't help reading it quickly. I don't think the book has so much depth as Pratt or Perrin, and about half-way through I was feeling worried that it was going to be like Sex and Other Changes, but the book grew on me and I think in fact it's quite a good one. In fact, I'm writing this about ten days after finishing it, and when I just picked up the book to re-read the first section I thought "I'd like to read this again".

There are some familiar themes in the book, including an episode where Alan takes Ange to Italy, in scenes similar to those from Henry Pratt. In fact, I have a feeling that this happens somewhere else too, perhaps in a David Lodge book? Maybe in Author, Author.

What I think most made the book feel as if it had grown from a play was that there wasn't that much attention focused on anyone except Alan and Ange, so you don't get a range of characters with their own distinctive traits as in Perrin and Pratt. But I think the two protagonists were well drawn, and believable. I was a bit worried that Nobbs might try and foist loads of philosophical thought on us, and not do it so well as Lodge in Therapy and Thinks... but although there was a bit of that he didn't go over the top.

I don't know if this was intentional, but at the start of the book I didn't really warm to Alan, and didn't find the relationship very plausible, but by the time it had finished, my doubts had gone and I was taken with the story, so that the ending, though a bit obvious, was quite moving. I don't think it spoils it too much if I quote a bit:

"I really do think, you see, that in this cruel world we should be grateful for every nice thing that happens, and, when it's over, we should know how to walk away without looking back"
"You're a bit of a philosopher," said Rob.
"Yes, well, you've got to be in my game," I said.

Good old David Nobbs, funny and sad at the same time.

Well, maybe not up with the best, but pretty good.

Completed : 04-Feb-2007

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