I, Nigel Dorking
by Mary-Anne Fahey
Published by Puffin/Penguin Australia
336 pages, 2007
My Life as a Loser
Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
Twelve-year-old Nigel Dorking is -- well -- a dork. We’ve all met the kind of boy who is short of friends and long on intelligence, with about a million facts at his fingertips, all of which he tries to impose on everyone in his range. And, of course, if they’re paired off with someone else considered a loser, they can be just as bad as others are towards them. They don’t want to have anything to do with their fellow loser, because then they have to consider themselves as losers.
It takes Nigel almost all of I, Nigel Dorking to understand that his father isn’t worth the bother and that Gordon is a very good father and stepfather. The last scene works very well -- you don’t find out exactly how it will turn out, but you can guess.
Mary-Anne Fahey is an Australian actor who used to be on a skit show called The Comedy Company, playing, among others, a schoolgirl called Kylie Mole who chewed gum while offering the viewer stories about her schoolmates and her philosophy of life. Fahey has done some scriptwriting, but I, Nigel Dorking is her first novel.
The novel is written in the form of an essay for English; this format is fairly common in this type of fiction, but this one ends with notes from the "proofreader" (Mary-Anne Fahey), a glossary of terms used in the book (some of them not real words, or wrongly defined) and a lengthy list of alternative titles.
I am in two minds about this. There are so many novels, these days, seen from the viewpoint of a loser. While everyone has had problems and times when they feel unpopular and unloved, you really have to be able to suggest that the hero has something admirable about him to make it work. Another book written in the last year, Michael Bauer’s Don’t Call Me Ishmael! has a bully who is actually defeated by wit when one of the characters stands up to him verbally. It may not be realistic, but the reader wishes it was. Readers can identify with the characters in the Bauer book, however nerdy, while it’s difficult to identify with Nigel. When he meets a bunch of bullies early in the novel, he hopes to get them on-side by telling them all sorts of fascinating facts and it only leads to a beating. You cringe and wish he would shut up, because the reader, unlike Nigel, can see where it will end.
The bullies are so very nasty, the scene is painful to read. Yet, later in the novel, when Gordon’s terribly cool motorbike-riding son turns up at a school camp, suddenly they’re not so bad. And it’s a scene that has appeared in so many novels before.
You assume from the cover and the way the character speaks that this is going to be a funny book. There are some funny scenes, but in the end, it’s rather sad.
On the positive side, Nigel does end up making his own decisions and solving his own problems, though with help. He is not alone any more.
I must admit, I was expecting to find that Babette was not as bad as Nigel saw her, but she really was nasty, and this made the last scene all the more enjoyable. | June 2007
Sue Bursztynski is the author of several children's books, including the CBC Notable Book Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science and Your Cat Could Be A Spy. Her fiction has been published in various SF magazines. She publishes two blogs, a general one at http://greatraven.blogspot.com and a review/SF blog at http://suebursztynski.blogspot.com. She lives in Australia.