Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What should I read next? Wednesday #5: (after) Utterly monkey

aka "Lad lit."

aka Screw-up Men in Their Twenties and Thirties Who Have a Fundamentally Good Heart But Whose Pathetic Insecurities Cause Them To Mock Others.

Nick Laird's first novel, Utterly Monkey, tells the tale of Danny Williams, an Irishman now working as a "deeply unenthusiastic" lawyer in London (quote from Publisher's Weekly review). Circumstances reunite him with his childhood friend, Geordie, who is on the run from the Ulster Unionists and carrying a sack of cash. Yeah, that's going to end well. Danny and Geordie travel back to Northern Ireland (Danny, ostensibly for a case, and Geordie, well, to get the stuffing beaten out of him, essentially). A coming-of-age story laced with humour and romance (Danny manages to consistently put his foot in his mouth with his assistant, the lovely Ellen). Richly detailed, with magnificent dialogue (a great ear for dialects helps) and convincing characters (if sometimes implausible circumstances).

On the theme of disillusioned youth, the back cover of Steve Hely's How I became a famous novelist promises that "this is the story of [Pete] Tarslaw's effort to write the best-sellingest best seller of all time, and what its success costs him in the end." Pete, like our friend Danny, is frustrated in love, and this spurs him on to a project: using current best-sellers as a guide (see, already that makes my skin crawl), Pete will write something that is guaranteed to make him rich and famous, thereby securing his future and making his ex-girlfriend jealous. Sounds like an iron-clad plan, right? Well, it works, oddly enough, and Pete soon discovers that talk show invitations, book readings, and TV interviews are not all they are cracked up to be. Moreover, people's genuine reactions to his very fake book and persona begin to trouble him, much as he is loath to admit it. Things come to a head when Pete gets into a media brawl with another bestselling writer (shades of Nicholas Sparks). Will Pete do the right thing? Can he really be who he is? Is he anything more than a magpie? Will his ex-girlfriend ever speak to him again? Hely, who has written for Letterman, is spot-on with portayals of the cast of characters in the book world. Disturbing, funny, gross, and ultimately kind of a thinker, this book has more layers than you might think. We hope Pete does, too.

Beginner's Greek fits in the same group as the previous two books in many ways (funny, edgy, darkly comic, cynical at times) but is ultimately a much more pure love story, hidden underneath the dross. Peter (that's too many Peters per blog entry. Sorry) meets Holly on a plane; they click and he gets her number; he loses her number and therefore loses touch with The One. Years later, his ne'er-do-well, serial womanizer of a best friend, Jonathan, announces his engagement ... to a woman Peter discovers is Holly. Peter stumbles on in life, feeling wronged even though he never tells Holly why he didn't call her (idiot), and marries the dull Charlotte because it "makes sense." At Peter and Charlotte's wedding, however, Jonathan is out in the garden romancing a woman not his wife, and is struck by lightning and killed. Hmmmm.... looks like Holly is free now, doesn't it? A round-about courtship ensues, with a few casualties and not a small amount of growth on everyone's part. Lad lit with homage to Austen, oddly enough, and it works.

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