Monday, 14 November 2011

How I Became a Famous Novelist: Review

Steve Hely has, according to the cover of his debut How I Became a Famous Novelist, written for American Dad, The Office, 30 Rock and David Letterman. So there's an expectation going in that this is going to be a gag-fest, and at first it seems to be. But the gags later subside as the book becomes a clever and merciless parody of the publishing industry.

Pete Tarslaw is pushing 30, extremely single (possibly due to his lack of personal hygiene) and stuck in a terrible job, where he writes essays for international college students who don't have a good grasp on English. He is contemptuous of the popular novels that line bookstore shelves, and thinks of the authors as charlatans who manipulate the emotions of a gullible book-buying public.

So he decides to join their ranks by writing the most commercially appealing book he can. The finished result, The Tornado Ashes Club, is a truly awful book that becomes an overnight sensation. All that's left after Pete's meteoric rise is his spectacular fall.

I was laughing out loud by page one. The gags are fast and funny as Pete describes his lifestyle and his work. It gets even funnier as he introduces the authors that populate the story (all parodies of actual authors, the fun is in working out who's who). There are some truly terrible extracts from the fictional books that the plot centres on, including Pete's own novel - Steve Hely is a great writer to be able to pull those extracts off.

The publishing process and the industry in general is mercilessly pilloried - one character who is an editor admits that she doesn't even know the difference between a good and bad book. And the scene where Pete sits in a large bookstore and analyses what he thinks readers want based on how they look is gut-bustingly funny.

How I Became a Famous Novelist is a comic novel that really works due to the quality of Steve Hely's writing and the amount of material he has to work with. Readers, writers, editors, publishers and especially critics are parodied, and parodied well, to the full extent of Hely's comic powers. By far the funniest book to be published in 2011.

How I Became a Famous Novelist is also the First Tuesday Bookclub pick for December.

Reviewed by Mark

How I Became a Famous Novelist is available here.

You can read an interview with author Steve Hely here.

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