Comedy writer, Steve Hely’s narrator and hero or anti-hero is Pete Tarslaw, a lazy, degenerate lay-about who is also smart and self-deprecating. I loved him immediately. His recollection of attending university was that “I could do whatever I wanted, which it turned out was not very much plus drinking”.
Pete’s world is turned upside down when he received an invitation to the wedding of his ex-girlfriend. Driven by the familiar urge we all have to somehow defeat those who have broken our hearts, Pete decides to become a novelist. Other motivations include a general wish for riches and a writerly charisma powerful enough to seduce some college girls.
Pete does his research in the local bookstore and lays out his rules of writing a bestseller. A highlight of this book for me, and one of the many moments that I cried with laughter was the fictional bestseller list at the end of chapter two. Pete writes his novel, “The Tornado Ashes Club”, a book that includes a murder, an innocent man accused, a road trip and flashbacks to the Great Depression, the Second World War and post-war Mediterranean and Peru, with a country singer thrown.
The rest of the book is a delightful send-up of the publishing industry, book critics and the writer’s Mecca, Hollywood. Publishers are compared to frantic parents, desperately hurling toys at a the reader, a screaming toddler, praying that something stops the whining. Critics are derided as unspeakable beasts: “what monster chooses the job of telling people how bad different books are?”
Each chapter is opened by an extract from Pete’s book or one of the other delightful caricatures that inhabit Hely’s fictional literary world. It’s clear that Hely is a great writer to understand how to write so fantastically badly. The latter half of the book loses momentum after the “car crash” that is the ex’s wedding but the ending is brilliant and left me, a devoted book lover, with a glimmer of hope for the literary world.