Obstacles to Young Love by David Nobbs.
Billed as a story of ‘faith, love and taxidermy’, this is the seventeeth novel from septuagenarian author David Nobbs, creator of the sublime (certainly in the hands of Leonard Rossiter) Reginald Iolanthe Perrin. This novel follows the lives of Timothy and Naomi over a period of thirty years, starting back in 1978.
They start off as teens in the school play, Romeo & Juliet – what else! They click and run off for a naughty weekend, but then Naomi dumps Timothy for someone with prospects – it may have been the curlew that he gave her for her eighteenth birthday! You see, Timothy’s father is a artisan taxidermist, and expects Timothy to take on the family business.
They both move on with their lives, take new partners, start families. Naomi becomes an actress in situation comedies in the ‘Allo Allo’ * mould, Timothy learns the business from his father. What ensues over the following years is a saga of chance meetings, near misses, and engineered encounters. Timothy always carried a torch for Naomi, and when she gets a part in a new Sitcom called ‘Get Stuffed’, written by her new partner, he gets a ticket for the initial recording, and engineers access backstage afterwards. They think he’s the taxidermy consultant, and drag him along to the cast and crew supper at an Indian restaurant, where Melanie chats him up …
The lamb dhansak arrives just as she finishes the sad tale of the ending of her affair, and she says, ‘So, Timothy, am I going to be stuffed by a taxidermist tonight?’ and he hears himself say, ‘We don’t stuff. We model.’
She looks at him in astonishment, then narrows her eyes and turns away.
Nick Sampson-Lighting has been waiting, and he pounces.
‘I remember an after-show supper at which three marriages broke up, ‘ he says. ‘Three. Television was television in those days.’
Timothy is frustrated. Firstly, he’s not as good a taxidermist as his father, and he hates it that others don’t recognise it as an art. Naomi is frustrated too. She’s pigeonholed as the love-interest in so-so sitcoms and her acting career never took off in the direction she wanted. The other obstacle to their young love was God. Timothy was a fervent believer, and shocked himself to his core with their inital dirty weekend. Naomi meanwhile embraced their coupling and thought it was a wonderful thing which faith should not be able to proscribe; and with the years gets more and more hardcore about her lack of belief in organised religion.
Running all the way through this bittersweet comedy is this will they, won’t they dilemma. Given that it’s a romantic comedy, one assumes that they will end up together in the end, it’s the journey to get there that provides the story. Arguably, at just seventeen, they’re probably too young to commit til death parts them, so they make repeated mistakes along the way and fail to take the fleeting opportunities that crop up to try again. Providing some light relief from all the heavy relationship stuff are Timothy’s drinking companions, of whom the perennial gooseberry Sniffy is a great creation. Nobbs also nails the shallowness of the media too, and you can feel for Naomi, the aspirant actress.
It’s quite a long haul though at 422 pages, and I found this book distinctly bittersweet and less overtly comedic than Nobbs’ last novel. Cupid’s Dart was about a 55 year old virgin and an Essex girl who takes him to the world darts championship and was hilarious and somewhat tauter. Obstacles’ comedy is less obvious, and of course taxidermy gets all the best jokes. It wouldn’t be a Nobbs novel without those ‘Perrinesque’ moments of complete anarchy, but this one has more darkness than the others I’ve read.
Bittersweet and entertaining, but not a laugh out loud comedy. (7/10)
Published by Harper. Book chosen from a list supplied by Amazon Vine.
* For non-UK readers, Allo Allo was a UK sitcom of the 1980s set in France during World War II written by the creators of Dads Army. It parodied the antics of the French resistance and the occupying forces and made much fun of the different languages spoken in particular. It was both hilariously funny and totally cringe-making and ran for about ten years.