Party pooper: the problems of ‘Nothing Special’

Nicole Flattery’s novel is clearly the work of a talented writer, but it also keeps its readers at a distance 
May 10, 2023
Nothing Special
Nicole Flattery
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The problem with reading about a party is that eventually you want to stop reading and just be at the party. This is a conundrum that Irish author Nicole Flattery faces in her debut novel, Nothing Special, set, as it is, in the midst of Andy Warhol’s Factory at its peak in 1960s New York.

Mae, our outsider protagonist and narrator who lands a job typing up Warhol’s endless cassette recordings, is soon whisked up into a debauched world of celebrity, drugs, sex and (yes) parties, alongside her new friend and fellow typist Shelley. From party to party they go, in the thick of the action yet forever apart from it, navigating their young adulthood in the way most young adults do—awkwardly.

The problem is that the gadabouts and layabouts who make up Warhol’s set are all too passive to drive the narrative forwards, meaning that lengthy exposition has to do the job instead. Flattery’s flat, too-cool-for-school style might be the perfect fit for the famously droll Warhol, but it doesn’t give us much motivation to keep going.

The same is true of Mae and Shelley’s increasing obsession with Warhol’s tapes. That we should share in their obsession is taken for granted: as we only ever learn about the tape’s content at a step removed, Mae’s blasé narrative feels like more of an obstruction than something genuinely illuminating.

For an undoubtedly talented writer such as Flattery, this is a shame, as is the only conclusion that we can draw on reaching the end of Nothing Special: that it would have been much more enjoyable to stop hearing about these damn tapes—better still if we could have just listened to them for ourselves and made up our own minds.