Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Books and Comics

I've just finished Dominic Holland's 'Only in America'. I chose it because there were glowing reviews on the back, all written by fellow comics. I'm sure he's a charming bloke and a talented stand-up comedian. All credit to him for writing a book, and for getting it published. But I'm afraid the book is ordinary, anodyne, and lightweight. Emphatically not worth the £10.99 cover price. The characters were as two-dimensional as bookmarks, and the plot was silly and predictable. And I resent being influenced to buy by biased reviews (there seem to be too many 'byes' in that last sentence).

Probably plenty of people have loved it. People who select a book at the airport each August, along with the suntan lotion. But it really isn't as good as the celebrity reviewers made out. A 'first-class, sit-down, laugh-out-loud novelist' he is not, Barry Cryer.

Sandy Toksvig can write, and should have known better. But I guess it is difficult to turn down a request to big up a friend or colleague's oeuvre. Harry Hill can be excused; 'This book is the best thing to come out of Holland since tulips' is funny and critically equivocal. I find it hard to believe Graham Norton read it in one sitting. I doubt he ever has time to sit that long, and if he does he must have better things to do.

Of course, I should have worked it out for myself. If the publishers can't find ordinary, impartial reviewers to praise a novel, alarm bells should start ringing. It is an interesting conceit, when you think about it; choosing reviewers who have something in common with the author, but in a completely irrelevant context.

"There's this Welsh chap, Dylan Thomas. Written a play called 'Under Milk Wood'. Who shall we get to review it?"

"Oh, how about Neil Kinnock, Aled Jones and Sian Lloyd? They're Welsh"

Also, I got this uncomfortable feeling that he had written it with a follow-up movie in mind. Not just because that was part of the plot, but the way the chapters were constructed, and the slightly visual gags. If you want to write a screenplay, write a screenplay. Don't pass it off as a book.

Ah, okay. I've just looked at Dominic's web site, and he admits the book was inspired by an unsuccessful screenplay called 'The Faldovian Club', so 'Only in America' was pretty much written as a screenplay after all. And he has since worked it up as a screenplay after it was optioned by the BBC.

Clever me.

Reading further on the web site, Dominic (to his credit) has included the following review from 'some guy from Amazon'. I think the inclusion is intended to be ironic, but I'm afraid this reviewer has it absolutely right:

"Whilst being a fan of Dominic's stand up and radio shows, I honestly thought this was one of the worst books I have ever read. It is facile and pointless without the redeeming feature of being slightly funny. All the characters have been designed with the forethought of the story being made into a film - which I believe is going to happen. As you read it, it feels like a screenplay - I want to read a book, not the layout for a film. If you want to read a good book by a comedian, try Talk of the Town by Ardal O'Hanlon which is darkly humorous - a black coffee to Holland's banana milkshake of a book."

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