Love, Unscripted: A Novel

Love, Unscripted: A Novel

by Owen Nicholls


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“Nostalgic, tender, and achingly cool.”—Josie Silver, #1 New York Times bestselling author of One Day in December

A film-obsessed romantic rewrites the script to understand why his “picture-perfect” love story crashed and burned in this wonderfully clever debut.

Ellie had the quizzical eyebrows of Broadcast News–era Holly Hunter and the neon-red hair of Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. At least that’s what caught Nick’s attention when he met her on the night of 2008’s historic presidential election. A cinema buff and devotee of great love stories, Nick always fancied himself the Tom Hanks of his own romantic comedy, and when sparks flew with Ellie that night, he swiftly cast her as the Meg Ryan of his story. For four blissful years, Nick loved Ellie just as he loved his job as a film projectionist: wholly, earnestly, cinematically.
But now Ellie has moved out, convinced that “the fire’s gone,” and Nick is forced to sift through his memories to figure out where it all went wrong. That night was a perfect meet-cute, yes, but was their romance as destined for a “happily ever after” as he’d thought? Was he really the rom-com hero he believes he’d been? Or did this Harry let his Sally down? Peppered with references to beloved movies, Love, Unscripted explores how even a hopeless romantic can learn that in real life, love isn’t—shouldn’t be—like what we see in the movies.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781984826879
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/11/2020
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 138,004
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Owen Nicholls is a screenwriter with a master’s in script writing. He lives in Norwich, England with his family.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

I’m still thinking about Leon Woodward kissing Sally Carter when the fire starts. It isn’t a big fire, just the melting of an inch-long piece of plastic, but the smoke sets off the alarms. I pull the film from the projector and stamp out the flames as an extremely anxious and very sweaty Seb comes running into the booth.

“Ah shit, what happened?” he asks, with an exasperated tone I assume has less to do with the problem at hand and more to do with the paperwork he’ll have to fill out later.

“The gate got stuck, the lamp was on, A plus B equals man fire,” I explain.

“Nick, you have to strike the lamp after you’ve got the loop running.”

I scratch at the hair on my chin and cheeks. The two weeks’ growth of a boyfriend in a coma.

“I did know that. Sorry.”

It’s not like I have a particularly bad memory. I can recite the entirety of the Pacino/De Niro coffee-shop conversation from Heat and can remember the exact order in which the eleven jurors are turned by Henry Fonda in Twelve Angry Men—it’s Juror #9, Juror #5, Jurors #11, #2, and #6 at the same time, Juror #7, then Juror #12 and Juror #1. Juror #12 changes his mind but switches back with Juror #10 and Juror #4, leaving just Lee J. Cobb breaking down in the final reel as Juror #3. But I can never retain certain key information about the inner workings of the projectors. A small part of me thinks they might lose their magic if I know exactly how they work. If I ever mention this to Seb, he’ll probably fire me.

“I’m sure Humphrey . . . ​it is Humphrey, right?” Seb asks.

I nod. It was my idea to name the projectors after my celluloid heroes, and Booth 3 houses both Humphrey and Katharine, Screens 6 and 7.

“I’m sure Humphrey will be fine.” Seb says. “And you?”

I know what he’s getting at.

“I’m fine.”

He gives me the international face of “Really?”

“I’m absolutely fine. It was just a little fight.”

His eyebrows rise enough to add an exclamation mark to the “Really?” And a “Really?!” is harder to brush off.

“Because Ellie said—”

“You spoke to Ellie?”

He shouldn’t have spoken to Ellie.

“She rang me. She wanted to make sure you were okay.” He pauses, not for dramatic effect, although it has that result. “She told me she’d moved out.”

It’s true. She moved out a week ago, but I convinced myself she’d move back in quickly enough that I wouldn’t need to tell anyone. I was approximately two days away from dressing up in her clothes and waving at people from the window in order to convince friends and neighbors that everything was still a-okay.

“It wasn’t a little fight,” I confess.

Seb’s “Really?!” face collapses into one of such pity it’s all I can do not to well up. We both suggest a cigarette break at the same time.

“I think the fire’s gone,” Seb assures me.

“That’s what she said,” I reply.

Chapter 2

November 4, 2008—11:21 p.m. GMT

Obama 0

McCain 0

270 needed to win

I first met Ellie at a 2008 election night party held by a mutual friend of ours who just happened to be a libertarian. Normally I would balk at being near anyone who would describe themselves as such, but Tom had a big house, good weed, and an encyclopedic knowledge of Asian cinema. That he was the only person in south London who wanted John McCain to win wasn’t quite enough to counter these excellent qualities, and the fact that he’d only invited thirty or so twentysomethings, who were all sane non-libertarians, was typical of him. He hated people agreeing with him, loved confrontation, and would almost exclusively start arguments with the phrase “I’m just saying.”

He addressed a crowd of five.

“I’m just saying, you lefties all fawn over Obama, but policy for policy he has more in common with Cameron than Brown.”

A clueless twentysomething in a beanie hat took the bait.

“So you want another four years of the same regressive Republican agenda that took the UK into two wars?”

Ellie entered my life half watching David Dimbleby informing us the polls for Kentucky, Indiana, and Georgia would close in forty-nine minutes, and half watching Tom take on the hipster. A wry smile crossed her face; she knew full well what he was doing. It was that smile that got me. I’m a sucker for any kind of smile, but a wry one just floors me.

Her smile was one of the first things I remember really liking about Ellie. The second was the way she tucked her hair behind her ears. There was a surety in the action. Maybe it was because as a teenager I was teased about my sticky-out ears. I even grew long hair to cover them. To see someone purposefully putting theirs on show made me want to yell out, “Good for you!”

I didn’t. Obviously.

That in a certain light she looked like Holly Hunter when Holly Hunter was in her mid-to late twenties—so Broadcast News–era Holly Hunter—certainly didn’t inhibit my attraction. They shared the same quizzical eyebrows and flawless skin. Plus, she had Kate Winslet’s neon-red hair from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and wore the most nondescript zipped-up gray hoodie and navy jeans, like she was paradoxically trying not to be noticed yet screaming, “Look at me!”

It took me forever to make my move. I became paranoid I’d been staring at her and she’d noticed and was now wondering who this weirdo creep with massive ears and . . . ​Wait . . . ​were we wearing the exact same hoodie?

It was a sign.

I grabbed two beers from the kitchen and went for it, handing her one and observing, “You must have seen Tom do this before to smile like that.”

She squinted slightly, viewing me with the requisite amount of skepticism with which you should view someone who comments on your smile, and took the drink.

“He certainly has a need to be disliked,” she said, elongating the vowels in “need”—an Elliesque idiosyncrasy I have since found both adorable and infuriating in equal measure.

We watched as Tom stepped his attack up a notch with a one-two of questions on the difference between the House and the Senate, and a much more aggressive than passive investigation into his opponent’s previous UK election-viewing habits, to which the hipster could only respond with a shake of the head.

Tom was obliterating his foe with a smile in his eyes. I could see where this was heading and gave my insight to Ellie.

“If that guy mentions hope or change, he’s done for.”

And just like that . . .

“So,” he said, a little too smugly, “you don’t believe in hope? You don’t believe in change?”

Tom erupted.

“F*** you!”

The hipster was taken aback by this outburst and looked around for help, but none was forthcoming. On the contrary, if there’d been popcorn, it would have been opened and passed around for the crescendo.

“I will happily have a debate with you about the rights and wrongs of universal healthcare, military spending, or the antiquated penal system of America. But I am f***ed if I’m going to stand in my own home and try to form a cogent argument over two-bit slogans. Jesus Christ. Hope. Change. You moron. Those posters might as well have said ‘Kittens’ and ‘Puppies.’ Nobody is against hope. Or change. Everyone loves change as long as it’s vague enough. I had genuine respect for you when you were arguing the ins and outs of foreign policy. But this. This is beneath me.”

The doorbell rang and Tom—without missing a beat—patted the victim on the arm and departed to answer it. But not before giving me and Ellie a wink on the way.

“He’s good,” she said in a way that made me a little jealous, again bringing several extra vowels to the word.

“He almost convinced me to join his anti-tax group when we were at university,” I said, stopping for a sip. “Before I remembered I like roads and hospitals and libraries and that I’m not an arsehole.”

“Is that where you know him from? University?”

“Yeah. You? You’re not part of his anti-tax group, are you, because if so, I didn’t mean the thing I said just then about them all being arseholes.”

She let out a short, sharp laugh, her brown eyes twinkled, and my heart soared.

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Love, Unscripted: A Novel 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Nursebookie 3 days ago
“Love, Unscripted” by Owen Nicholls is a story about a self-deprecating narrator, Nick who is telling the story from his vantage point on how everything went downhill between him and Ellie. In a somewhat cynical yet honest depiction of how falling in love and breaking up is like. Love is indeed unlike the movies. I enjoyed the movie references and truly related with the characters no matter how absurd some scenarios are. Totally loved the book and I recommend this. I thought that this debut novel was creative, clever and nostalgic. Very well done.
Anonymous 4 days ago
The cover and description of ‘Love, Unscripted’ had me expecting a fluffy, light-hearted rom-com. It had its moments, but that’s not what this book was. It was more. It was real. We’ve all known Nick and Ellie. This wasn’t just a story about falling in love, it was about what happens after that. It was about the choices people make to grow together, or grow apart, and ultimately to just grow up. The way Nicholls broke down the story, alternating between the distant past when they first feel in love, the present where they have split, and the more recent past where things fell apart, was such a unique and powerful way to tell a love story, and without giving anything away, I think it ended perfectly. I sincerely enjoyed the book and hope there will be future works by Owen Nicholls to look forward to. Thank you to NetGalley, Nicholls, publishers, and anyone else who made it possible for me to receive this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
LaurenLS 13 days ago
'Love, Unscripted’ by Owen Nicholls is a uniquely laid out story about a perfect meet-cute between Nick, a projectionist, and Ellie, a free-spirited photographer, and everything that follows after it. The novel is told from Nick’s perspective, as he’s trying to suss out where his relationship with Ellie went “wrong.” The narrative incorporates a flashback to the night of their first meeting, and is also interspersed with "intermissions" throughout. While this format felt wholly inventive and unique, in my opinion, it made it harder to get into the story. I also didn’t feel emotionally invested in Nick’s journey. Perhaps it would have been more compelling to see some of the story from Ellie’s perspective. I found Ellie to be the more compelling and likable character. The continuous referrals to pop culture are entertaining if you know the context, but the story gets bogged down by them in places. I also feel like this should be labeled wholly as a general fiction book and not a romance, because it doesn’t necessarily have the stereotypical “happily ever after” that is an integral component of any romance novel. In the end, I feel like the story has some great moments, but the overall effect was just okay to me. **I received an ARC of this title courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.**
cloggiedownunder 13 days ago
Love, Unscripted is the first novel by British author, Owen Nicholls. Thirty-year-old projectionist Nick Marcet is sort of in denial: he had a big fight with Ellie, his girlfriend of over three years, and she’s moved out. He doesn’t want this to be a final state of affairs, so he begins to analyse their relationship, trying to pinpoint what went wrong. Learning he is to be evicted focusses the process as, in the act of packing, he unpacks all their fond memories. When his small(ish), indie(ish) cinema goes digital, he finds that he is now, in quick succession, without a girlfriend, a home, or a job. The narrative is split between an in-depth examination of the night that Nick and Ellie met; and the events of the months that follow the break-up. Four intermissions detail significant events of their time together, and these are bracketed by what could be Nick’s summary of their romance in film precis form. Initially, Nick comes across as a bit whiny, and the reader may wonder just how honest his narrative is. Does he deserve all the sympathy he attracts, or is he, to an extent, the architect of his own heartbreak? Ellie, as described by Nick’s friend, Tom “…loves movies, has great taste in music. She’s smart, funny. Super-talented and driven” possibly making her a good match for Nick. But Nick recognises that a “large part of my brain hates me.” How did they stay together for so long? There’s plenty of laughter in this romcom, but there are also tears and lump-in-the-throat moments. Both main characters are clever, with a quirky sense of humour, but at times their failure to share what they feel is frustrating. The copious references to both will ensure that this novel will appeal to film buffs and music aficionados. The ending is rather ambiguous, just like some movies. Quite entertaining. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Hachette Australia.
LPMoreland 13 days ago
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the complimentary e-ARC. As a huge fan of media and pop culture, I fully expected to love Love, Unscripted. Unfortunately, it fell flat for me. First, I found the two main characters difficult to connect with. Nick came across as pretty immature and kind of a jerk, and Ellie, while witty and sarcastic, didn’t really make me want to be her friend. Secondly, the narrative unfolds in parallel timelines—the night they met and the present, after they broke up. The back and forth narrative can work really well, but this time it was more confusing than helpful. Their first night and the beginning of their relationship was cute, fun, and relatable. But that relatability quickly faded, and then I was just annoyed at both of them, and at the writing in general. I didn’t even really care if they got back together or not. That’s how annoyed I got with it all. I get that movies are the “gimmick” of the whole novel—Nick’s an aspiring script writer and movie aficionado after all, but the device was used with too heavy a hand. It quickly got to the point where I was throwing up my hands and exclaiming, “I get it! You like movies. Now move along.” And I won’t say that men never write good love stories—because I’ve read some excellent male-penned love stories—but it takes a certain skill to really pull it off and make me want to invest in the characters. The author gave it a good shot, but for me, it missed the mark. I did like this one quote—I literally laughed out loud: “And now I have to break their hearts by telling them that their dreams of both their children finding everlasting happiness are as dead as Sean Bean in every film Sean Bean has ever been in.“
DoveArt 14 days ago
This book has two elements that can sometimes derail the flow and pace of a romance: heavy emphasis on an external element (here, it's movies, in another book I recently read it was food) and alternating timelines. Sometimes they work well, but many times they distract from what would have been the main storyline. The result here is a book that I enjoyed by pieces, for its references (Cinema Paradiso will always be a favorite), but not so much as whole.