Young, gifted and worrying about the footie

Helen Stevenson reads a boys' own tale of frogs in the tandoori and toe nails in the tea; Time for Bed by David Baddiel, Little,Brown, pounds 14.99

If I'm interested in football and I love funny men, by rights I ought at least not to dislike David Baddiel. And if I like David Baddiel, I ought to be just crazy about Gabriel Jacoby, who is standing in for David Baddiel here, because this is a novel and not a comedy routine. You know that, because it comes between covers and costs pounds 14.99. Otherwise it's much the same, except there is no infectious laughter here, no peer pressure to giggle and identify. A reader is harder to please than a member of an audience.

One of the conceits of the new bloke persona of which David Baddiel, among others, has become the spokesman, is a deep rooted insecurity about the world, women, and his team's chances of league success, all wrapped up in the ironic bashfulness of the man who is just lucid enough to recognise that what he's really worried about is whether he's any good in bed. Here's the straight answer: any man who talks about himself this much can't be.

Gabriel is Jewish, insomniac, anxious to be seen to be educated in spite of himself, nervous, sentimental, in love with his half-brother's sister Alice, who is black. He doesn't have a job at the start of the novel, and makes the occasional trip to the job centre to sign on, until he gets his arm twisted to write a trendy sports column for a glossy magazine. He may be capable of deep felt emotions towards women, which are meant to make us feel he is as enlightened, somewhere in his heart, as he is priapic in his trousers, but his compassion and sensitivity do not impede on his conception of the world outside his own. An employee in the job centre is ridiculed for his ordinary sadness and hopelessness; the only real reference in the novel to a member of the labouring classes reads as follows: "I'm not sure it's possible for the labouring classes to consume any other beverage (than tea), just as it seems to be part of the social contract they have struck with us bourgeois that, as they mend things in our houses, we must make them endless cups of the stuff." I read this sentence several times, I read it ironically, and straight, I read it post-ironically and I read it critically, and I still could not think how it had crept into a novel by one of Britain's major comedians. I could phrase that indirect question differently, of course.

I don't ask that men grow up to be serious. It's just a bit dull if the jokes remain the same 15 years on. For a woman, the football has to be good and the jokes have to be funny. It's quality that counts, not just how long you bang on about it. At times there was even a distinctly sub- Wodehousian tone, circumlocution being the last refuge of the man who isn't sure he's made a joke: "Had Dr Johnson been there at that point he would have noted my expression, got out his quill, opened his enormous compendium and completely rewritten his definition of the word 'blankly'."

A good read? Maybe. I wasn't bored, but I wasn't moved either, except occasionally to a slight smile. There are some good jokes, a lot of bad ones, a sort of plot, an extended description of anal sex, a flatmate relationship gone wrong, frogs in the tandoori and toe nails in the tea, the occasional striking apercu, a Jewish funeral and a lot of presuppositions about the kind of things graduates think are funny.

The problem is that in this kind of genre humour, there is no room for eccentricity, only for types. Humour does depend on types, to a certain extent. But surely in a novel they need to be flexed and modulated to create character, otherwise you end up boring your reader. David Baddiel must know this already. Contrasting two female characters, one of whom corresponds to his platonic ideal of womanhood (ie she knows everything about football) and the other who doesn't (ie she knows nothing about football) he eventually allows the latter to emerge as the more interesting and subtle character.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Arts and Entertainment
Queen Christina left the judges baffled with her audition
X Factor
Arts and Entertainment
The Vienna State Opera
opera
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'
musicLilly Wood and Robin Schulz bag number one single
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
    The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

    The fall of Rome?

    Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
    Glasgow girl made good

    Glasgow girl made good

    Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
    Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

    Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

    Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
    The landscape of my imagination

    The landscape of my imagination

    Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories