Sour Grapes by Dan Rhodes: Getting things off your chest

Cover image for Sour Grapes by Dan RhodesI suspect many of you will have heard of Dan Rhodes’ new novel by now thanks to David Sexton’s review in the Sunday Times a few weeks ago. Set at a literary festival held in the village of Green Bottom, Sour Grapes takes a hefty swipe at the publishing world in ways which might sound rather familiar to anyone who has had much to do with it. The star of the show is the author Wilberforce Selfram, a lanky pedant given to abstruse vocabulary and babbling about psychogeography. Who could Rhodes possibly have had in mind?

Wilberforce Selfram sighed through his nose, as he always did when accepting that he would have to simplify his vocabulary for the comprehension of the people around him

Angelica Bruschini is determined to make her mark on village life after leaving the cultural delights of London behind. A literary festival seems just the thing, an idea encouraged by Florence Peters head of The Literary Festival People who’s soon found a sponsor. By the time the festival’s date arrives, a surprisingly starry list of authors has been assembled plus some not so starry including Wilberforce Selfram, walking from London in the manner of a medieval scribe. The festival organisers would much rather have than nice Harry Potter woman but her publishers have palmed the wordy Selfram off on them. As the weekend begins, Selfram feels his vocabulary simplifying seeking emergency help from a thesaurus but that’s far from the only problem he’ll face. By the end of the festival a murder will have been uncovered, a love story will have begun, and Selfram will be on his way to becoming National Treasure. In the background, overseeing it all, is MI7, the organisation members of the Brotherhood of Darkness (Publishing Division) seem to think they have in their pockets.

It had been published as fiction, and the sections detailing the Brotherhood of Darkness (Publishing Division) and MI7 had been dismissed by reviewers as flights of fancy

Sour Grapes is a hugely entertaining satire, lampooning publishing with a slapstick comedy while driving its barbs smartly home. As Rhodes unfolds this story of bookish and not so bookish folk, events becoming increasingly outlandish and, at times, downright bonkers, punctuated by the odd comment by publishers who’ve got wind of a novel called Sour Grapes being written about them. A year on from the festival, it’s been made into a TV drama by which time Selfram is starring in all manner of cosy reality series while producing his five-hundred-page opus composed of one word.

Rhodes’ novel had me sniggering and chortling while nodding my head in recognition. All made up, of course, as he repeatedly emphasises. I’ve spent so much of my working life involved with publishing in one way or another it’s hard for me to gauge how readers who have not might take to some of it but I loved it. Fans of Rhodes’ novels may well know about his troubles with his previous publisher, but if you’re interested they’re laid out in detail here.

If I’ve whetted your appetite enough for you to want your own copy, please consider ordering direct from Eye/Lightning Books.

Eye Books: Much Wenlock 9781785632921 384 pages Hardback

24 thoughts on “Sour Grapes by Dan Rhodes: Getting things off your chest”

  1. Love the title and cover, interesting that this is out satirising British publishing, while in the US, after the American Dirt saga, The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris hits back at New York City book publishing. I haven’t read the book, but I did enjoy reading a few articles it prompted.

    I’d need to listen to this one being discussed to understand the satire, not really knowing anything about the internal workings of publishing, but it sounds like a fun read if you do.

    1. I read The Other Black Girl earlier in the year, Claire, which I also enjoyed. It certainly rang true although I’m more qualified to judge Rhodes’ points. Definitely an enjoyable read for me.

  2. It sounds marvellous, a real hoot. The literary world is such a fertile ground for this type of satire, with so much potential for skewering. I wonder what WS himself thinks of it, assuming he’s aware!

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