Books by Charlie Hill

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Books by Charlie Hill

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Category: Humour
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: An entertaining novel warning us about the way that the book industry is going; a prophetic word in time as well as naughty, anarchic fun?
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: November 2013
Publisher: Tindal Street
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1781251638

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Neurology professor Lauren Furrows witnesses the sudden untimely death of two tourists in a bar while on holiday. Birmingham bookshop owner Richard Anger happens to be in the same bar so together our single holiday makers decide to team up as an investigatory force to be reckoned with. (Well, Lauren teams up for that. Richard's reasons are more physical than intellectual to begin with.) The murders seem to emanate from author Gary Sayles, a legend in his own mind and, apparently, fatal to read. Elsewhere hippy exhibitionists (in an over-18 way) Zeke and Pippa, are planning the art installation to end all art installations and, are determined to make Gary the centrepiece, whether he realises it or not.

When someone who's a writer, literary critic and former bookshop owner writes a cautionary tale about the current state of the non-fiction market, people would do well to listen. Well, he (in the shape of author Charlie Hill) has, so perhaps we should. For, while also functioning as a dark, anarchic, naughtily funny novel, Books is as much a warning as Hogarth's etching of Gin Lane.

As Hogarth visually represented alcohol as the evil of his era, Mr Hill uses words to point out the evils of mediocre fiction, the way in which it's received and its effect. He may not do it with kindness, but as we meet the grotesque Gary Sayles (I am Gary Sayles. I am an author, I own words.) we're happy for Charlie to be as acerbic as he likes.

Gary can do no wrong; he believes it so it must be true. He regrets his publisher only permitting him two clichés per page, but people buy his books so surely popularity reflects talent? No, not in this caricatured world and, by extension, we can also surmise that Charlie is denying the plausibility of any connection in the real world. This denial comes with some well-placed smirks rather than a pulpit address so we're ready to believe he has a point.

Gary isn't the only Hogarthesque cartoon. Zeke and Pippa are deliciously funny as the arty, drug-using inhibition-free couple (not a book for the kiddies!). Not only are they wonderfully outlandish, they have designs on Gary that don't actually go as planned in any way whatsoever. (I won't include spoilers but imagine an Ealing comedy that would never have gone past the censors at the time they were making Ealing comedies!)

The hapless, romance starved indie bookshop owner Richard and the academic ice-maiden Lauren seem pretty normal by comparison and their relationship (to us readers anyway) is enjoyable and satisfying. We don't have to stop there though; this isn't just about the central cast. The support are great too, from Muzz the literature-loving vagrant who has an inadvisable way of feeding his habit to Gary's wife who seems mundanely dependable until her past provides one of the novel's few surprises.

That's the clever thing about Books. We know who the killer is and how it happens early on. The twists are therefore few and yet the narrative holds us with its charm and quirk. As we career towards the climax where all the sub-plots cross in chaotic splendour we realise it's not true to life. (No one we know would actually pick up a book while ignoring the pile of bodies beside it.) However as the final vision of violence gives way to a final vision of hope we understand the fable and realise that whenever we pick up a novel by [insert mediocre author of choice], it may to society's detriment.

I'd like to thank Tindal Street for providing us with a copy for review.

Further Reading: If this appeals and you'd like to read another satire taking a nudge at the book industry, we recommend The Best Book in the World by Peter Stjernstrom and Rod Bradbury (translator).

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