The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P by Adelle Waldman

5th Aug 2013

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel
An aspiring writer, member of Generation Y, living in Brooklyn, struggling to juggle friendships and often disastrous relationships, all while veering between the relatable and the obnoxious … no, I'm not talking about Hannah from Girls, the messy, spot-on creation of Lena Dunham.

It’s time to meet the eponymous antihero of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P, the invention of another bright young American thing, début novelist and journalist Adelle Waldman.

Nate is a successful reviewer and essayist on the brink of publishing his first novel. In his early thirties, he exists in a creative, well-educated middle-class New York bubble, but despite his – well, intelligence and good looks – he just can’t seem to get it right when it comes to dating.

Even when Nate finds a woman who seems to tick all the right boxes – Hannah – the course of true love just doesn’t run smooth.

Nate reckons he’s a good guy. He’s not a sleaze. He’s read all the right books – studied all the right courses – and he’d probably call himself a feminist. So why is the end result still an old-fashioned string of break-ups and weeping women left wondering what they did wrong?

This isn’t a novel where anything particularly remarkable happens. People meet, go on dates, break up, meet other people. Those who live in the trendier parts of a modern metropolis will nod with recognition as craft beers are sipped and hour-long queues formed for the latest hot brunch spot.

Everyone else will sigh at the ridiculousness of the world these characters inhabit. But despite the relatively mundane raw material, it’s Waldman’s ability to dissect and pinpoint the very real shifts and transactions in her characters emotional lives makes her book a joy to read.The accuracy of Adele Waldman’s emotional micro-analyses is painful at times – not just because Nate can often seem like such a prat, but because it all rings so believably, recognisably true – and can even end up making you see things from Nate’s perspective.

Virtually every character here is hampered by a hyper-liberal awareness of what they ought to be doing – or what they think others ought to be doing – or what they think that others think that they ought to be doing – to the extent that any interaction unmediated by guilt or, well, overthinking, seems impossible. It’s often hard to distinguish satire from sympathy, and the novel is all the better for it.

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P is a look at gender relations as much as it is romantic relationships, and for a woman writer to do so by ventriloquising a male character feels like a bold and refreshing contribution to both debates.

But more than that, this book is also Adele Waldman’s take on the ways that modern feminism is internalised and interpreted by modern men. It’s probably fair to say that she thinks there’s still a long way to go – and a lot of figuring out left to be done.

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P was published in hardback by Cornerstone on 1st August.