Review: Steve Hely „How I Became a Famous Novelist”
Steve Hely’s novel masquerades as the tell-all memoir of a contemporary “famous author” who reminisces about his way to fame – a bit artificial fame but still.
We meet Pete Tarslaw, the main hero, as a recent college graduate in his thirties who writes essays for college entrants – a rather dubious job to say the least of it. The guy seems to be on the slippery slope to homelessness and unemployment – his hobby appears to be napping and drinking, his hygiene and motivation have degraded to such a level that he’s accumulating beer bottles next to his bed as convenient substitutes for the toilet One day, however, his ex-girlfriend sends him an e-mail with an invitation to her wedding which will take place in one year’s time. Outraged Pete becomes desperate to impress her (and everybody else too ) and decides to change his life. He wants to find a vocation that meets preferably all of the following 4 objectives – (1) fame (enough to open up new sexual opportunities and have a personal assistant), (2) financial comfort (without having to have a job again, retire to boating and skeet shooting), (3) a big home on the ocean (with library, bay windows, wet bar etc) and (4) humiliate Polly, his aforementioned ex-girlfriend who dared to find somebody better (an Australian to boot!).
Being a literate and even college-educated person (at least technically) Pete focuses on becoming a writer. He realizes that most best selling authors seem to follow a sort of formula and writing a novel is, in fact, nothing bur a clever con-job. He creates and analyses the formula with the goal of writing a best seller. After a writing course he starts working on his first book, entitled The Tornado Ashes Club. Although Pete manages to get published, the book is initially just another damp squib; only after an accidental quarrel between a critic and a book blogger it starts selling better but then the things are hardly moving in the direction our hero wanted them to go. Be careful what you wish for…
A great idea for a novel – about becoming a novelist! The book is well-written, I liked the excellent, tight humour of the first part – the struggle of the main lead to change his rather miserable life was really funny, not to mention descriptions of the whole publishing business. The novel does call into question the current state of reading and writing books in our very electronically-addicted society and it does it in a very palatable manner. Anyone who has ever had an urge to write a book will likely enjoy it.
In short and in my very humble opinion the book would have been a better novella than novel. Apart from that I felt a bit weird reading it as there was not one point in the entire book in which I really rooted for the main guy. He was funny but he hardly inspired sympathy. Apart from that the quotes from “other” books (mostly invented) started to be too similar after a while. The worst thing for me was the fact that laughs really become sparse in second half which reads a bit like any writer’s worst nightmare.
Good entertainment, not enough food for thought. Pity but I would recommend reading this book even if you don’t want to become a writer yourself.