The writer’s insights into love, heartbreak, and growing up continue in her second fiction novel.
When I think Dolly Alderton, I think friendship, twenties, parties, relationships, and incredible writing. Good Material is her second novel, and her fourth book – with Everything I Know About Love being first, released in 2018, Ghosts (her first work of fiction) in 2020, and Dear Dolly, a collection of her agony aunt articles, released in 2022. Everything I Know About Love was a huge success, with the BBC creating a series based on it. Five years later, it’s still a firm favourite of mine and of many other girls in their twenties. Dolly’s writing is compelling, familiar, and relatable. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry, but constantly there’s a feeling that she knows you – particularly if you’re a young woman navigating life in your twenties.
Good Material, released on the 9th of November, brings the same hilarity and warmth of Everything I Know About Love (Everything). However, instead of being a memoir, it’s a work of fiction, looking at and discussing heartbreak—which she always does so well—but interestingly, this time from a man’s perspective. Despite the male narration and the pity you feel for the protagonist as he navigates being newly-single at thirty-five years old, Alderton manages to communicate a sense of female empowerment which comes from being single as a woman. This is what I found to be the most poignant point of Everything – summarised by her famous quote: “nearly everything I know about love, I’ve learnt from my long-term friendships with women.” Dolly is undeniably good at empowering women, reminding you that you can be happy alone, and that self-worth isn’t based on being in a relationship, or who you’re seeing, and that you can be in your thirties and not want kids, and that it’s okay to never want kids.
Dolly understands women: she knows the heartbreak, the difficulties of being young, the hardships of relationships, the intense emotions. She says it all in Everything, so, it’s not surprising that she wanted to try something different. Speaking to Sarah Gill from Image, she explains how she “interviewed a selection of men over 20 hours, and [she] really wanted to take on the challenge of understanding them and finding that new angle on something that I’ve written about so extensively.” And she does. Andy, the protagonist who is a complicated, failing comedian, is going through heartbreak, at the same time as Jen, his ex-girlfriend, is realising that all she wants to be is alone—certainly not someone’s girlfriend, and probably never someone’s mother. He drinks a lot, works out, complains to his friends, dates a girl twelve years younger than him, and moves onto a canal boat. This is all done in trying to process being alone at thirty-five, and it isn’t until one of his friends is also dumped that you get some insight into the repression of emotions which envelops male heartbreak. He wants to tell him:
“Talk to me, cry to me, scream at the sky, curl up like a baby. Let me help you and console you and tell you all the ways I’ve gone completely fucking mad since Jen left. Let me reveal every ugly, humiliating, childlike thought and feeling I’ve kept from all of you. I know what you’re feeling and, while I don’t know that it gets better, I do know you’re not alone. I promise, you’re not alone.”
Dolly Alderton, Good Material, page 251
Despite his acknowledgement of his own emotional repression, Andy decides that “the next logical step is to order a round of shots.” Dolly truly does provide a different perspective to heartbreak, showing how men feel they cannot talk to each other, or that they simply shouldn’t be heartbroken, and, as Everything I Know About Love did, it made me love being a woman. Jen’s friends indulge her, and she can talk at length about the breakup, whereas Andy’s awkwardly skirt around the topic, saying “Oh, lad… I’m sorry.”
At the end of the novel, Alderton produces a chapter from Andy’s ex-girlfriend Jen’s perspective, and although throughout I felt no bitterness towards her—perhaps a man might feel differently when reading?—Alderton amazingly provides a new perspective on her protagonist. I finished the novel feeling happy for both characters, sensing that they would both eventually get what they wanted. Despite any pining for it to end with them back together, the reader can understand that they aren’t meant to be, in a very Jo and Laurie-esque way.
As always, Dolly’s writing is perfect: colloquial enough to read in one sitting, witty, and hilarious. Good Material is an important book for anyone to read. And once you’ve read it, go straight to Everything I Know About Love.
Words + Image: Madeleine Rousell, she/her