x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

It Had To Be You: the examined life of a man with problems

David Nobbs fuses pathos and humour in this story of a middle-aged man coping with a despotic boss, a clueless secretary and a demanding mother.

It Had To Be You 
David Nobbs 
It Had To Be You David Nobbs Harper Dh64

Middle-aged men and middle-class angst became central themes for the male equivalent of chick-lit sometime in the mid-1990s. But long before the arrival of Nick Hornby, Tony Parsons et al, there was David Nobbs, best known for The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, a series of novels that were later adapted by the BBC into a fondly remembered 1970s television sitcom.

With his latest novel, Nobbs, 76, remains at the top of his game, fusing pathos and humour, as well as tapping a minefield of moral ambiguity.

As the book begins, James Hollinghurst, 45, is a man with problems, until personal tragedy moves the goalposts.

Indeed, how he handles a maladjusted daughter, a despotic boss, a clueless secretary, a demanding mother and two very different women in his life will keep the reader guessing from first page to last.

Writing crisply and colourfully, Nobbs paces the novel well. And with an insight that could rival Ruth Rendell, he finds those pinpricks of daily existence that distinguish the averagely comic novel from the richly nuanced work that this undoubtedly is.