One Day I Shall Astonish the World, Nina Stibbe

Cover of One Day I Shall Astonish the World by Nina Stibbe.

Nina Stibbe is a comic genius. The characters she has created for One Day I Shall Astonish the World are each as hilarious, farcical and tragic as the best of Victoria Wood through to Alan Partridge. If you like oddballs, the everyday and mundane profanity, this is for you. If there were a degree in Little Britain, Stibbe would be the obvious course leader.

One Day I Shall Astonish the World is the story of a friendship between two women, Susan and Norma, from young adulthood in small-town Leicestershire to their careers in the unexpectedly scandal-ridden workplace of the University of Rutland. Susan is certain of the enduring closeness of their friendship. Norma is ambitious, aloof and often cruel. Is the whole story a muddle of misunderstandings on Susan’s part? Does she miss the finer points of human relationships altogether? Is she meddling with other people’s lives, or doing the duty of any good friend?

Susan is a character who mostly misses the point, but in narrating her experiences brings the reader possibly closer to the noise and the nonsense of our lives than any serious drama can hope to. I wasn’t able to fall in love with her, though I felt great sympathy for her predicament. Norma is a trickier prospect, veering from the single-minded to the opaque, and I couldn’t quite work out her motivations - something her mother warns Susan of from the moment they meet.

I listened to One Day I Shall Astonish the World on Audible while fury-painting the new loft room, a tiny white box which has aged me by 15 years, so it was no doubt useful for my psyche to ruminate on Susan’s more sober aspirations, such as to own a wooden front door instead of her and Roy’s plastic one.