Straight White Male by John Niven

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Straight White Male by John Niven

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Category: Humour
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Chris Bradshaw
Reviewed by Chris Bradshaw
Summary: Meet Kennedy Marr and prepare to be appalled, amused and amazed at the antics of a fortysomething Irish screenwriter in this very funny satire on Hollywood and academia.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: August 2013
Publisher: William Heinemann
ISBN: 978-0434022861

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In Kill Your Friends, John Niven delivered a scathing and hugely entertaining satire on the music industry. In Straight White Male he's turned his attention to Hollywood and academia with similarly impressive results.

The Straight While Male in question is writer Kennedy Marr. After enjoying huge success as a novelist the Irishman follows in the footsteps of Fitzgerald, Faulkner and Hemingway by heading to Hollywood and trying his luck as a screenwriter. Enjoying rather more success than his illustrious forbears, Marr gets to test philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb's maxim that you will never know if someone is an #*@hole until he becomes rich. And Kennedy becomes very rich.

As a man whose philosophy for life could be neatly summed up as doing exactly as he pleased all the time in an utterly consequence free environment, Marr would seem to be well on the way to flunking Taleb's test. With a string of failed marriages, and near constant boozing, birding and brawling he certainly lived up to the first part of that philosophy. The consequence free part didn't quite stack up though. Lawyers fees, court settlements and keeping his exes in the style to which they were accustomed all costs a chunk of change, especially when the tax man demands his share too.

Salvation comes in the unlikely form of a provincial English university which awards him a prestigious literary award and with it a fat cheque of £500,000. Tax free. Teaching in a sleepy midland town, which one of his ex-wive's and estranged daughter call home, with stuffed-shirt colleagues who consider him unworthy of a post at the university let alone a 'literary' prize and the temptations of pretty young undergraduates then what could possibly go wrong?

Well plenty of course which leads to a hugely entertaining and surprisingly moving book. While he may not possess the worst excesses of Niven's most infamous character, Steven Stelfox, Kennedy Marr gives readers much to enjoy. Outlandish he may but Niven keeps him on the right side of believable and furnishes him with some great lines (of the verbal as well as the Colombian variety) leading to plenty of genuine laugh out loud moments.

The madness and excesses of the movie industry are nicely played but even more impressive is the skewering of the posturing academics at the fictional Deeping University. The pretentious Head of the English Department, Professor Dennis Drummond, is an absolute gem, utterly scornful (and jealous) of his infinitely more successful new colleague.

Amongst all the carousing and should know better shenanigans from a fortysomething writer there are serious issues at play. Death and suicide feature prominently as do family ties and the responsibilities, or otherwise, of fatherhood.

That of course doesn't mean that Straight White Male turns into some kind of schmaltz-fest, far from it. It does ask some big questions though and does so in a hugely enjoyable manner. Surprisingly moving and often very funny, what's not to like?

If this book appeals then we think you'll love The Amateurs or The Sunshine Cruise Company, also by John Niven. Women might enjoy The Pages by Murray Bail.

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