How I Became A Famous Novelist- Steve Hely

Cover of "How I Became a Famous Novelist&...

Cover of How I Became a Famous Novelist

How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely is another book I picked up as a result of a session at the 2011 Melbourne Writer’s Festival. For those who are not aware, Steve Hely is part of the writing team on such hit television series as 30 Rock, The Office (the US version) and American Dad. So my expectations for this book were that this would be a funny book. What I got was not so much a laugh a minute side-splitting comedy, and more of a satirical examination of the world of contemporary literature, publishing and what it means to be a successful writer.

When Peter Tarslaw receives an invitation to the wedding of his ex-girlfriend, who unceremoniously dumped him, leaving him a broken shell of a man, he decides that the only way he can tolerably attend the event is if he is a success at something. At this time he sees an interview with one of his ex-girlfriend’s favourite authors, Preston Brooks. He is a frequent fixture on the New York Times Bestseller list. Tarslaw is not a fan of his work. However, in watching the interview Tarslaw decides that Brooks is in fact a genius having made a name for himself by writing what people want, and living up to people’s idea of what a novelist should be. He decides that if Preston Brooks can do it, then so can he. He then sets about writing a book that will make him famous.

As I said this book is a satire, and while funny at times, there are moments that are so close to how things actually are, that it is more scary than funny. He makes some uncomfortable observations about the publishing business, and the idea that books and reading have become commodities that are publicised and sold in the same way that other firms sell soft drink or hamburgers. That giving the masses what they want, and creating a ‘sensation’ are more important the creating a great piece of literature.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was especially meaningful for me since I have become a participant, through this very blog, in the ‘book industry’ that he describes. ( I can only hope that my contribution is for the good of books and reading, and not part of the greater problem.) I recommend this to anyone with an interest in books, reading or publishing.

The Tiger’s Wife- Téa Obreht

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht is the story of Natalia, a young doctor in the former Yugoslavia, who upon learning the news that her beloved grandfather has died, remembers the stories he had told her throughout her life. The main stories she returns to are the story of the ‘deathless man’ and the story of the ‘tiger’s wife’.

This is a wonderful book, so full of life and whimsy, but always in the background is the tragedy of loss and hardship that comes from a land that has been if not at war, then at least preparing for war, for most of the last hundred years or more. I found this book by accident, and when I realised that it had as its backdrop the Balkan Wars that followed the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, I was hesitant, expecting it to be depressing. I am so glad that I ignored my hesitation.

While the various wars that have beset the area are a near constant feature of the landscape, it is never allowed to intrude on the telling of the stories. If anything, the book is about how life continues despite the horror of war, and that human beings always find ways to cope.

It is a country where superstition rules. To begin with we share the frustration of Natalia (and her grandfather) with the prevailing superstition that seems to grip the people, refusing to make way for reason. In many ways this superstition exacerbates that tensions between the different religions and creeds that make up the Balkan people. However, we eventually come to understand that superstition can serve a useful function in providing the survivors of horror, the means to go on.

This is Obreht’s first novel, and at the age of 26, she has already set the literary world on fire. She has won several awards about the place for her short stories, and The Tiger’s Wife was the Winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2011. It is with great anticipation that I look forward to seeing what she produces next.