It wouldn’t be proper to give spoilers – but I think I can reveal that the present-day comic caper plot in due course comes back with bells on: something more in the direction of Kingsman than James Bond. Did I mention Kate is also a former international silver medallist at karate? That’s relevant too. The actual science-fiction mechanism by which all this works is not just left unexplained, but actively propelled into massive paradox territory in the closing pages.
I worried that Come Again would be nothing more than a kind of pulpy Sliding Doors, offering pound-shop existentialism and manipulative mawkishness. In fact, Webb has Kate worry from the start about the butterfly-effect consequences of her presence in this chapter of history, not only about how to make things better, but how not to make them worse... Webb’s memoir, How Not to Be a Boy, was a genuinely smart and affecting read; here he proves that he can write about others as well as he writes about himself. This isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s a likable, readable piece of “up-lit” with enough intelligence applied to the sci-fi set-up to keep you suspending your disbelief. It had me reaching for Adam Phillips’s masterly Missing Out, and thinking wistfully about all the lives I might have led, all the roads not taken.
The debut novel from comedian Robert Webb tells the story of Kate, 45, whose husband Luke has died of a brain tumour. Kate falls asleep vowing to kill herself the next day, only to wake aged 18 on her first day at university – the day she first met Luke. She can change history if she can get Luke to visit the doctor and have his tumour nipped in the bud. But Kate must now try to be the person she no longer is.
It’s an eccentric debut but I hope it’s the first in a long line of equally imaginative novels from Webb.
But vague familiarity aside (The Time Traveller’s Wife?), Webb is his own man. He has a clean, affable style that fits itself around the comedy and tension that the story needs at different points. On clear display throughout is Webb’s experience from working on stage and TV: big characters (quirky friend, out-and-out bastard boss), snappy dialogue, certain visual flourishes, a long chase scene. The funniest parts of the book are Kate’s exchanges with her parents, who are just eccentric enough to be both funny and believable (and a conversation between Kate and her mother includes a joke about Monty Don that made me laugh for about 20 minutes)... God knows we need a bit of a laugh and a thrill these days, books like this that are driven firmly by characters, setting and story. Cometh the hour, cometh (again) the man.
Time-slip novels and plots revisiting the 1990s student experience are both things at the moment. This debut by the well-known comedian and Peep Show actor ingeniously combines both...
Splendidly bleak, fabulously Nineties and enjoyable.
Début novel from the actor best known for his role in Channel 4's iconic comedy "Peep Show" (alongside David Mitchell) and author of the critically well-received memoir How Not to Be a Boy. This follows recently bereaved Kate, who wakes up one morning back in her university bedroom on the first day of Freshers' Week in 1992. She will meet Luke again, the husband she has just lost, but this time around she might be able to save him. A super-lead for Canongate, it will be supported by a "major" nationwide campaign, advertising and interviews.