Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Steve Hely's How I Became A Famous Novelist

This is the funniest book I (RE, not JRL, thankyouverymuch) have read in years. Really! It's so funny it made me wonder why funny novels are so rare. Why can't novels be as funny as, say, Jon Stewart, or even David Sedaris?

How I Became A Famous Novelist is that funny. It's about a guy who decides to write a bestseller by imitating all the cliches in the books on the NYTimes list -- books like A Whiff of Gingham and Pecorino (life in a villa in Sicily), Nick Boyle's ShockBlade: Lynchpin (a thriller), and especially Kindness to Birds, a feel-good road-trip novel by his soon-to be-nemesis. It works! And then he finds himself turning into what he hated. Of course there is much opportunity for Hely to skewer the institutions and people that writers both love and hate, like publishers, and other writers. The story itself is just an over-the-top romp, but Hely manages to carry the antic energy almost to the end. Chapter after chapter, it keeps being funny.

Here are some of the rules that Pete Tarslaw, Hely's hero, distills from the bestseller list:
Rule 1: Abandon truth
Rule 4: Must include a murder
Rule 5: Must include a club, secrets/mysterious missions, characters whose lives change suddenly, suprising love affairs, women who've give up on love but who turn out to be beautiful
Rule 6: Evoke confusing sadness at the end
Rule 16: Include plant names

Oh, it's just so much fun. One wonders why this book -- which makes fun of almost every other book and writer in existence -- didn't get more attention. Then again, maybe it's obvious.


Anonymous said...

FWIW, I agree--this book is really hilarious. I think he kinda pulls his punches in the second half--it gets a little sentimental--but I can't understand why it wasn't an actual bestseller, instead of a parody of one.

5 Red Pandas said...

I agree. I loved this book and tried pushing it on people last summer when it came out. It manages to remain funny till the end, which is rare, even for humorous books.

Maybe the Ward Sixers need to write a post with funny book recs. I'd love to read that.

rmellis said...

See, I was hoping the commenters would supply the suggestions! I would love a big pile of funny books to read.

Mr. Hodge said...

The Hely book sounds a bit like After the Workshop... Maybe it's a new genre?

Mr. Hodge said...

Here's a better link to the review .

Anonymous said...

I look forward to reading it. I just reread Padgett Powell's *Edisto* which has got tons of funny.

Nancy said...

Rhian, I hope you will run out and buy a copy of
possibly the funniest book I have ever read.

Diary of a Nobody

Wlliam Trevor, the Irish writer, claims to read it 6 times a year.


Anonymous said...

Six times a year!!! There is nothing I can read that often. Wow.

Sung said...

I'm about to read Evan Mandery's First Contact -- it's supposed to be funny. But is it? I'll let you know when I finish it.

You make a very good point, Rhian -- why is it so rare to read a funny novel? The only book that I've read that made me laugh out loud over and over again was Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. And you know, Adams and Hely are sort of cut from the same cloth: not novelists but rather comedy writers who happened to have the chops to sustain their humor into a longer form. Even though I love Jon Stewart's works (America, Naked Pictures of Funny People), and his counterpart Stephen Colbert, too (I Am America), none of those works are novels. By and large, comedy is best delivered in the shorter form (skits, jokes, etc.), so I have a feeling that what we have with the likes of Adams and Hely is a rarity.

I remember picking up Hely's book at the Strand when it came out but didn't buy it. But I will now.

rmellis said...

Thanks for the recommendations!

somerville said...

I always found Fisher's Hornpipe by Todd McEwan to be pretty funny, even on re-read.