A delightful and curious look at modern dating
Non-fiction: Modern Romance: An Investigation, Aziz Ansari with Eric Klinenberg, Allen Lane Press, hbk, 288 pages, €26.85
Love and romance are such unknowable, unpredictable beasts. Try as humankind might, the code that might crack this imprecise science remains at large. Instead, and in the quest for reassurance and answers, we make do with the self-help guide and the dating tome. It's no wonder the self-help book market is worth $10bn in the US alone. Several of them appear to scratch at a kernel of truth; others wander far off the mark in an exercise of bewildering self-servitude. Together, they create a blizzard of white noise that's as dispiriting as it is confusing.
Until now that is. Cutting an impressive swathe through it all is - let's be honest - a most unlikely navigator. Aziz Ansari is a name that may not ring bells to many, but for millennial and pop culture nerds alike, the American is big noise.
As a stand-up comedian and actor, his persona is best described as 'adorkable'. Yet when it comes to an investigation into the breakneck world of finding love, we are in a rather safe pair of hands.
Somewhat wisely, Ansari has sidestepped that most modish of vanity projects favoured by his comedy contemporaries: the personal humour memoir. Where Tina Fey blazed a trail, dozens followed, presumably at the behest of publishers that maniacally waved fat cheques in their faces. Ansari's Parks & Recreations co-star, Amy Poehler, turned in a personal account that was somewhat light on its feet. That Ansari decided on something with a little more sociological heft, but every bit as much comedic chew, is a masterstroke.
People Power drives much of Modern Romance. Ansari and Klinenberg solicited responses to a number of questions via an online forum, including 'did you do much online research before a date?' or 'have you been broken up with via social media?'. This up-to-the-minute coalface research - sorely lacking, oddly enough, in the sort of dating guide where an expert pontificates from the pulpit - forms the basis for a rather zesty, Zeitgeisty look at the dating scene.
Modern Romance nails the woes - chiefly, the scourge of technology - of a very specific demographic. But this is a book whose appeal reaches past the Tinder generation.
Ansari's social observations are peppered with personal anecdotes (and sometimes, he really is panning his socks off for laughs), that take the book into random, delightful and curious cul-de-sacs. Twinned with the tales of spurned daters and heartsick hopefuls, Modern Romance should strike a chord with anyone who has ever considered creating an Internet profile.
Finding modern romance can be a journey full of disappointments and the quiet ache of hopelessness; doubly so, one assumes, if you're willing to part with cold hard cash to read a self-help book about it.
That most single people are now part of the rudest, flakiest generation ever does little to help matters. Ansari knows he doesn't have all the answers, but if the quest for self-enlightenment is a journey and not a destination, he makes for an utterly charming companion on the car ride.