No Good Deed by John Niven

Kill Your Friend(’s successes and revel when they fail): No Good Deed by John Niven


No Good Deed is a satirical novel about modern day success which exposes male insecurity and friendship in the process. Alan is a food writer a comfortable upper-middle-class life and an upper-class English wife, a far cry from his Ayrshire roots and the accent he’s long since cast off. When a homeless man on the street turns out to be his old friend Craig—who dropped out of uni to become a rock star and they lost touch—Alan decides to do the good thing and help him out. However, with simmering resentment and an unequal dynamic, their friendship isn’t on the sturdiest of grounds and soon Alan’s life is thrown into ridiculous disarray.

The novel is a dark comedy about youthful friendship, adult success, class, and the modern world of success and failure. From the start, Alan’s privileged and insensitive world is highlighted through glib comments and more deep set attitudes, and it is this vein that powers No Good Deed on through its narrative, with a sense that somehow Alan also loathes himself a little bit for what he has become, but also has absolutely no desire to give up its comforts and excesses. The narrative has the predictable feel of an obvious downfall, with Niven making it clear that a simple mutually supportive friendship was never exactly what Alan and Craig had, but this suits the comedic style, a mocking look at helping out an old friend and how such a concept doesn’t really exist.

Niven places the events squarely in the modern day, with references to social media sites like Twitter and Tumblr and extended mocking of the London housing market (Alan and his wife were lucky in the nineties and then into the new millennium, allowing them an expensive house in the country in the present). Mostly these give it an up-to-date feel, though there is perhaps a bit too much comedy aimed at the easy target of hipsters and an unnecessary referencing of Trump.

I found it funnier than Niven’s earlier novel Kill Your Friends, with its continually poking fun at the lifestyles of the modern well-off middle-class being more engaging and easy to find ridiculous. In some ways it feels similar to the recent Trainspotting sequel film in that old friendships and nostalgia mix with modern technology and growing up in different ways, although Niven’s novel is less amusingly feel-good and more satirical. No Good Deed is a sharp and funny look at friendship, growing up, and the ridiculousness of wealth and class in modern society.

[Note: this is the 100th post on this blog, so thanks everyone for reading!]

Quick book picks for June

Summer is finally here and, more importantly, a whole load of fantastic books are coming out this month. I was spoilt for choice as a number of these are some of the best of 2017 thus far. As ever, I’ve included short descriptions and links to longer reviews in the titles.

  • All The Good Things by Clare Fisher – One of my books of the year so far, this story of a young woman in prison who is trying to remember the good things that have happened in her life alongside the bad is a powerful modern tale of the system failing somebody and a moving assertion that good things can be found anywhere.
  • Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney – A biting and clever novel about a student in Dublin who performs poetry with her best friend and ex-girlfriend, and then the two meet a married couple and get entwined in their life. Witty look at being a twentysomething in great prose.
  • Phone by Will Self – The anarchic, not-for-everyone new book by Will Self, which follows the spy life and long-running affair with a high-ranking soldier of Jonathan De’Ath, aka The Butcher. It mocks espionage, plays around with language and acronyms, and is very darkly satiric.
  • Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index by Julie Israel – An emotional YA novel that focuses on grief, positivity, and friendship, whilst being uplifting yet not cloying.
  • A History of Running Away by Paula McGrath – The novel tells the simultaneous stories of a young girl in 80s Ireland who wants to be a boxer, a gynaecologist in 2012 dealing with work pressures and her ill mother, and a girl in Maryland running away after the death of her mother. A fantastic read that depicts finding home and knowing who you are.
  • No Good Deed by John Niven (review to come) – Another darkly comic story, this time about a successful writer who helps out an old friend who is down on his luck—and then finds out the limits of his good deeds. It shows the ups and downs of friendship whilst mocking the upper-middle-classes and their views and lifestyles.