How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely

From TheBookbag
Jump to navigationJump to search

How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely

Buy How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely at or

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis
Reviewed by Trish Simpson-Davis
Summary: Author Steve Hely wrote for 'The Office'; in the same vein comes this story of Pete Tarslaw, who creates a best-selling novel in revenge for his miserable showing in life. I gave it the benefit of the doubt - and four stars.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 314 Date: March 2011
Publisher: Corsair
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1849015721

Share on: Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn

With an uncompromising title like 'How I Became a Famous Novelist', this clearly isn't intended to be a subtle book. So I can hardly complain when a cynical look at the writing industry swings raw punches in every direction. It just isn't my sort of humour, but equally, if you rave about 'The Office' you will likely enjoy this book far more than I have done.

Pete Tarslaw is a bored, lazy opportunist who believes that the world owes him success. He is already composing fake student essays for a living when, resentful of the things that are going wrong in his life, he decides to write a best seller. His research into the mass market convinces him that he can replicate the execrable standards he discerns within the top-selling titles. Soon this con artist's own story is written, published and the dollars are mounting up, though not quickly enough for his avarice. When Pete rubbishes a rival's writing, the best-selling author proves his mettle by turning the tables and publically humiliating his petulant, immature opposition. A supercilious character, Pete isn't a nice hero: I was pleased when he got his (fortunately inevitable) come-uppance.

Beyond the basic plot, the satire steers a clever course between jaundiced accuracy and savage exaggeration, between the laugh-out-loud funny and the completely absurd. Steve Hely's ingenuity in searching out novelty is demonstrated early on when he comes up with forty original, completely fictitious but overtly convincing best-selling titles. They had me chuckling – there was one of every genre, with enough meat to make each title worthy of consideration as a proposal before a sense of its ridiculousness kicked in. Definitely the best bit of the book for me!

Hely examines every corner of a publishing industry driven by erratic and whimsical public demand. Creative writing tutors and amateur writers, publishers and publicists, reviewers and celebrity novelists all collude in a pretentious game in which Pete Tarslaw expects to out-serve them all. But Pete's publishers blow hot and cold with him in direct relationship with his publicity potential and his book sales have little to do with the merits of his writing. Most of us would agree that this is pretty much the case. As a one reviewer put it His complaints ...are very funny. They'd be even funnier if they weren't true.

Now I'm prepared to believe that those living amongst the sushi and chardonnay of the literary business in sophisticated New York find this book hilarious. Steve Hely demonstrates an intimate knowledge of his subject, so I expect he's well-known in that world. Indeed, the book won the 2010 Thurber Prize for humour and has been roundly praised by US critics.

But I think the issue here at Bookbag Towers is how interesting this book will prove for an average UK reader in let's say Kelso or Bodmin. For me, the slightly-alien American satire wasn't enough to see me through. Sorry, but I need human interest. If I don't like the hero, why should I follow him through his problems, even if he eventually redeems himself by seeing the error of his ways? There's no comparison in the likeability stakes with Laura Weisberger's young heroine, Andy in The Devil Wears Prada, nor with the superficially similar, but much nicer Mel in Benjamin Obler's Javascotia. I commented at the time that Mel, has more good qualities than he recognises in himself … I wanted his work assignment and love life to succeed.

Clever writing from Steve Hely, but Pete Tarslaw just didn't cut it for me.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this book.

Suggestions for further reading

My particular humour preferred both the above titles as well as Jay McInerney's The Last Bachelor, set principally in New York.

Please share on: Facebook Facebook, Follow us on Twitter Twitter and Follow us on Instagram Instagram

Buy How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely at


Like to comment on this review?

Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.