There was a lot of localised hype surrounding this book during my first year at University when several of my peers had to read it for some new contemporary literature module. There were, of course, the standard student grumbles; ‘Why do we have to read this shit?’; ‘Melvyn Burgess? Not exactly the next Shakespeare?’; ‘I’m not going to bother reading it, I’ll just find a summary on the internet. Ha ha ha, I’m so clever.’
Whereas the last option is one that some took, the book is 330 pages long with text big enough to warrant reading the entirety in one sitting. The first option is one I thought myself, I mean, a cover comprising a woman’s legs with her undies just above her knees doesn’t exactly scream Booker Prize Winner. But books are like people, they can be deceiving on the outside but it’s what’s inside that counts. Or, to coin an overused cliché, you can’t judge a book by its cover.
However, you can be forgiven for prejudging Doing It, if not by its front cover, then by its first paragraph; “‘OK,’ said Jonathon. ‘The choice is this. You either have to shag Jenny Gibson – or else that homeless woman who begs spare change outside Cramner’s bakers.’” The book is pretty much that, banter between 17 year old lads. Page 68 is home to one of my favourite ever lines; ‘Mr Knobby Knobster grinned his woozy little hardman’s smile.’ Does it get any better than that? No.
Doing It not only deals with the sex lives of the main characters, but also focuses on the pain of dealing with parental separation and adultery. Burgess gets the balance about right. His characters are well developed and, mainly through the use of dialogue, their reactions to situations suit their ages.
Controversy is a word commonly associated with Burgess, which is a shame because if the controversy is the main reason behind the success of his novels, then it’s a waste because on evidence, he is a very talented writer. Sure, he is no Shakespeare or Joyce (although this may give Joyce too much credit) but his writing is clean and his stories are well-shaped and not overdone. I don’t want to wade through ten pages of description of Dino’s house, which intricate details of every single ornament and carpet, and a tangential story about how his cat went missing. I do want to know if he is going to get into Jackie’s pants. Burgess understands this and while, yes all the plates and stuff needs to be tidied away before the party, he doesn’t let it take away from his story.
I think that’s all of the good stuff... wait! There’s one more. Conversations with more than three people involved. Burgess gets it right without having to pin each line of dialogue with who is speaking. Again, this is because of his skill as a writer and cleverly created characters.
Now for the reverse argument. Yes, Doing It is a well written book, but it is fairly simple, and therefore there is less margin for error. The Children’s Book bored the hell of me but its tremendous length and complex structure made it a great work of fiction even if it wasn’t my cup of tea.
Also Doing It doesn’t come close to a conclusive ending, it just stops. It comes out of nowhere, you’re approaching the end of the book and wandering where the rest of it is. Is there a sequel? Burgess seems to be worried about waffling on too much, but I think there could have been at least another hundred pages left to this one. It’s not inclusive to point where I’m satisfied and thinking of my own conclusions, but simply disappointed because I wanted to know where the characters went. It’s mentioned that Dino goes to University. I wanted to know more about what happened to him, and the rest.
This is one of the few books I would recommend to my close friends, but that is purely for inside jokes, and the fact that they all love The Inbetweeners. But if you don’t take your books too seriously, are not easily offended and fancy a few hours of light entertainment, Doing It is definitely for you.
Doing It by Melvin Burgess was published by Andersen Press Limited in 2003. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)