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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Charlie Hill

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To purchase Books

Title: Books
Author: Charlie Hill
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013
Length: 243 pages
Availability: Books - US
Books - UK
Books - Canada
Books - India

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Our Assessment:

B : good bookish fun

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 27/12/2013 David Evans
London Rev. of Books . 8/5/2014 Adam Mars-Jones

  From the Reviews:
  • "Charlie Hillís satire on the book world is sharp, funny, and shrewd enough to subject both Garyís popular mediocrity and Richardís literary snobbishness (...) to the same ridicule." - David Evans, Financial Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Books has a killer-book premise. Literally: a book that kills, and not because of some supernatural curse attached to it (à la Ring-video) but simply because of its utterly dreadful, life-draining mediocrity. Its author is Gary Sayles, leading exponent of the 'male confessional', the book his latest, The Grass is Greener, his fourth after three bestsellers. The success of his mindless books has rather gone to his head, and he has great plans and ambitions for it (and for himself), unaware of the lethal effects of his writing -- just as he has become oblivious to most everything else.
       The first clue that the reading-experience of The Grass is Greener is more than just unpleasant comes when a tourist in Corfu keels over, manuscript in hand. Among the vacationers who witness the death are bookseller Richard Anger and neuroscientist Lauren Furrows, and while Richard jokes that he isn't surprised reading Sayles knocked the woman out it takes a while before the two conclude, back in England, that that was really the root cause. Lauren diagnoses SNAPS -- 'Spontaneous Neural Atrophy Syndrome' -- s the cause of death, but it takes the bookish Richard to complete the picture by fingering the trigger.
       Richard is a frustrated provocateur, a bookseller (and sometime-book-blogger) who has difficulty maing ends meet, given his high standards and unwillingness to compromise by tolerating shlock; he also drinks rather a lot. Lauren has walled herself off from emotion after a personal tragedy years earlier. Their efforts to try to avert a full-scale literary catastrophe bring them closer together, and force shifts in their personal outlooks -- at least one good thing coming out Sayles' otherwise unmitigated disaster.
       Other who take an interest in Sayles and his new project are postmodern conceptual artists Pippa and Zeke, for whom:

Art is a commodity. It has no significance beyond the sales pitch, no consequence beyond the cash. It performs no function. There is nothing beneath the surface.
       The vacuous Sayles, representative of popular fiction, is the perfect subject-object for this duo whose guiding principle is: "All we are is who we fuck and how we fuck 'em". Presenting themselves disguised as fans, Sayles is only too willing to unwittingly go along with them -- as he has his own ideas about taking himself to the next level, having gotten very full of himself:
Was he not an icon ? Was he not an outsider who was taking on an elitist establishment that had lost touch with popular opinion ?
       And so, he explains:
I want to change the face of books. I want to raise the profile of popular literature, to strike a blow for ordinary readers and what they read.
       He's setting himself up perfectly for Pippa and Zeke's shenanigans -- even as they aren't fully aware of just how easy it is to get sucked into Sayles-land. Meanwhile, Richard continues on his crusade, because to him: "books mattered. Books really mattered". (And by 'books' he means something very different than what Sayles puts into circulation.)
       Things come to a head when the book is finally published and Sayles' glorious "campaign for the democratisation of literature", the promotional 'People's Literature Tour', is set in motion. In fact, people have already been dying left and right -- reviewers and others who got advance copies of the book -- but of course it's once it's unleashed on the unsuspecting public the consequences really threaten to get out of hand.
       Everyone gets theirs in Books -- very different things for each of the main characters, but the life-saving plan Richard proposes also sees lots of readers properly tended to, the democratisation of literature in rather a different way than Sayles had intended. It's quite good fun -- though the rather cavalier treatment of the rather many deaths does give the book a slightly sour taste.
       Hill's cheerfully told tale reminds of Geoff Nicholson with both its quirky, singularly obsessed characters (as all the main ones in Books are too) and its amusingly absurd premises and incidents. The characters all (except perhaps for driven Pippa, who really knows what she's after, from beginning to end) have their weak spots, making them sympathetically human -- even blowhard Sayles, victim to his own success and delusions -- and while Hill's sympathies obviously lie much closer to Richard's lofty literary ideals he pokes fun at and deflates all the characters' pretensions, including Richard's. The satire isn't so much gentle -- as noted, there's really rather lots of carnage -- as gently written, which doesn't blunt its edges but makes it go down so much more easily. So much so that one occasionally wishes for a bit more sharpness to it.
       An enjoyable and amusing read -- and easily recommendable to anyone who enjoys reading (whether 'literary fiction' or 'male confessionals' ...).

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 December 2014

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Books: Reviews: Charlie Hill: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       English writer Charlie Hill is from Birmingham.

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© 2014 the complete review

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