Today I have a tale for you that is just darling and guaranteed to warm the cockles of your heart like some sort of handmade heart-cockle-cosy that your granny might have knitted. The Trivia Man by Australian author Deborah O’Brien was just the thing to tide me over during an unexpected wave of insomnia and I ended up reading it in one sitting, so enamoured was I with Kevin and Maggie, the protagonists.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Penguin Random House, via Netgalley, and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
‘Trivia is a serious business, not a social occasion’ Kevin Dwyer, the ‘trivia man’
Dubbed ‘brainbox’ by his peers and ‘weirdo’ by his sister, Kevin Dwyer is a middle-aged forensic accountant who has never had a real friend, other than his eight-year-old nephew Patrick. When Kevin joins the Clifton Heights Sports Club trivia competition as a one-man team, and convincingly wins the first round, he is headhunted by the other contestants. But Kevin would prefer to be on his own. That is, until he meets Maggie Taylor . . .
Maggie is a Latin teacher and movie buff, who’s good at her job but unlucky in love. In fact, she’s still besotted with the man who dumped her years ago. Nagged by her friend Carole about getting out and meeting people, Maggie reluctantly joins the trivia team founded by Carole’s husband, Edward.
Over a season of trivia nights, Kevin, Maggie and her team will experience arguments and crises, friendships and romances, heartbreaks and new beginnings. And maybe, just maybe, Kevin will find his happy ever after . .
Read it if:
* you like your trivia questions to be unequivocally unambiguous
* the phrase “themed dress-up night” has you making a swift and silent dash for the emergency exit
* if you had the choice between accountancy and tide-watching for a career, you’d choose the tides
* you think “forensic accounting” involves figuring out how to lower the incidence of office paper-cuts from spiral-bound ledgers
Given that this book is by an Australian author, features a main character who may have some characteristics synonymous with a certain social-emotional syndrome, and has a blurb indicating some romance, the comparisons with Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project are inevitable. But while The Rosie Project is more of a comedy of errors with Don Tillman stumbling, cycling or salsa dancing from one awkwardly hilarious social encounter to the next, The Trivia Man plays it straighter and I think this is its greatest strength.
Kevin is a believable character – an ordinary bloke with some extraordinary general knowledge and a below-average ability to read social situations – and I warmed to him immediately. O’Brien has done a great job fleshing Kevin’s character out beyond the basic “socially awkward misfit with a talent” through introducing the reader to Kevin’s relationship with his nephew, Patrick. The friendship between the two of them and the admiration for Kevin from Patrick brings depth to Kevin’s character and demonstrates that he is more than the sum of his characteristics.
Maggie is the quintessential mother-figure who has been denied her own children through various acts of nature and relationship and is left to mother her teenage charges through her high school teaching of French and Latin. After being dragged through multiple broken relationships with the man she believes is the love of her life, Maggie reluctantly agrees to join her friend’s trivia team and a friendship with Kevin blossoms.
Admittedly, I found Maggie’s infatuation with the ex-lover who unexpectedly turns up in her life again to be a bit far-fetched. It seemed to me that, as a character, Maggie was marked out as particularly stable and so while her romantic plotline was necessary to move the story along, it didn’t altogether ring true. That aside though, I particularly enjoyed the realistic way in which Maggie and Kevin’s friendship developed throughout the story, as the romance factor (something I generally don’t enjoy in books) was left as a slow-burn.
The story is told in alternating perspectives as the trivia competition rolls on from week to week. The inclusion of the trivia questions was great fun and I cringed along with Teddy and the Dreamers when an ambiguous question came up, silently argued for my preferred answer along with the characters, and happily snuck away from the intermission karaoke with Kevin and Maggie.
Overall, I found this to be a delightful, light and fulfilling read that was just the thing as a pick-me-up during an exhausting few weeks. I’d heartily recommend The Trivia Man as a winter warmer (for we southern-hemisphere dwellers) or the perfect beach read (for you sun-soaked northern hemisphere lot). The story will restore your faith in finding friendship in unexpected places as well as provide you with the answers to a whole slew of possible trivia questions. After all, you never know when you’ll be called on to name the part of the body affected by Lady Windermere Syndrome.
Until next time,