Hard for any committed reader to resist a novel with the title Books, particularly one which comes with a hearty recommendation from Jim Crace. In it Charlie Hill lampoons everyone in the book trade, from publishers to booksellers, literary editors to authors, bloggers (how dare he!) to publicists and adds a swipe at performance artists for good measure. It begins in Corfu where both Lauren Furrows, a lovelorn professor of neurology, and Richard Anger, an independent bookseller who’s been in a strop ever since his fiancée ditched him and went to live in the suburbs, are on their separate holidays. One day they witness the sudden death of a woman reading a manuscript which is later revealed to be the new offering by Gary Sayles, bestselling author of several ‘male confessional’ novels and the personification of all that Richard detests. Returning to the UK, Lauren is troubled by a newsfeed item identifying another victim who has succumbed to SNAPS – Spontaneous Neural Atrophy Syndrome – and decides to investigate, enlisting Richard’s help. Meanwhile, Gary Sayles is preparing for the launch of his new novel, The Grass is Greener, when he spots a website set up by two fans Mike and Susan, aka Zeke and Pippa two performance artists dedicated to provocation, making money and inventive sex. He sets up a meeting, is completely suckered by them and the People’s Literature Tour is born. What follows is a race against time as Lauren and Richard come to the conclusion that the increasing number of SNAPS deaths all have one thing in common: The Grass is Greener. How can they stop the mass demise of Gary Sayles’ multitude of fans once it’s published?
Books combines the humour and pace of Jasper Fforde’s fiction with the satire of Channel 4’s Black Books. Richard shares Bernard Black’s contempt for the book trade, convinced that it’s drowning in mediocrity and staffed by know-nothings, excluding himself of course. Gary Sayles is self-satisfied and unpleasant, given to delivering platitudes as if they are the insights of a razor-sharp brain. The novel is liberally scattered with book titles, authors’ names and in-jokes. It’s occasionally a little strained and may feel a bit too anoraky for readers who haven’t worked in the book trade but that said it’s sharp, funny and ends very satisfyingly. It’s a book that could only have been published by a small publisher – step forward Tindal Street Press.