Sour Grapes by Dan Rhodes review – a vengeful satire on the publishing world | Fiction

Funny ha-ha is hard. For each reader who cackles with laughter at an writer writing “this individual was planning to micturate upon one’s pommes frites”, there’s one who will wince. Some will really feel the universe joyfully lighten as they learn: “There’s a personage at the parsonage.” Or: “I consider it was Roland Barthes who mentioned I like it when a plan comes collectively.” I can’t pronounce this unhumorous, since humorous is so largely in the hi-de-hi of the beholder. I can not, nevertheless, report that any laughter issued from my very own private hilarity gap.

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Dan Rhodes’s half-dozen comedian novels have their followers, and he’s upfront in Sour Grapes that a falling-out along with his writer (what he calls his “ongoing scrap with the biz”) prompted a satire on the trade. A few of the barbs right here, about publishing’s exploitation of younger staff and the inertial classism, hit dwelling. However the precise story, regarding a literary pageant in a picturesque English village, appears like one thing out of the Nineteen Fifties.

Mrs Bruschini, head of the organising committee, who “made a level of by no means taking the Guardian”, suggests they invite Anthony Trollope, her favorite writer, and is dissatisfied to listen to that he’s deceased. Numerous dwelling writers attend, eccentric and ludicrous, some below their very own names, some comically retitled. The organiser, “Florence Peters”, is known as after ex-Hay pageant director Peter Florence.

The e book opens with a tall, cadaverous writer terrifying the vicar’s housekeeper by consuming a reside slug. That is Wilberforce Selfram, who speaks like this: “One commenced one’s peregrinations from a settlement in the south-east of this fractured isle, a conurbation identified generally as London. Maybe you may have heard of it, maybe not.” He writes pretentious novels that no one reads. Are you able to guess who it’s?

There’s some comedian enterprise with the interactions of the villagers, and slightly extra with the grotesques from the literary world. Selfram thinks he’s dying, however it’s solely haemorrhoids. He addresses a group of main schoolchildren and it goes surprisingly properly. He advises a younger Irish author to title her new novel not Odd Folks however Attacked by a Jellyfish! although it incorporates no jellyfish. (Whether or not Rhodes means to conflate Sally Rooney’s and Diana Evans’s titles is unclear.) Selfram steals phrasing from Scottish author Morag McLochness, who’s outraged: “Fandabidozi is the best phrase ever uttered by human being, dwelling or deid!” If this type of factor tickles you, Sour Grapes might amuse your bouche. Rhodes might have known as his novel Grapes of Scoff.

Will Self.
‘I don’t actually have any reference to the zeitgeist’ … Will Self. {Photograph}: Mark Bourdillon/Alamy

There’s additionally Mara, a self-declared “Journalist–Activist-Millennial”, who’s white and straight however declares that she is BAME as a result of her great-grandfather was born in Singapore and LGBTQ as a result of she as soon as kissed a woman at a pupil social gathering. She is vastly incommoded to search out the villagers completely welcoming. That is attribute of a Gammonish tendency to sneer at millennials: “unattainable to gender, from Bristol in fact, and with a worldview that’s fully incomprehensible to anyone greater than three years older than they’re”. All this is able to matter much less if the supply had been smarter. “Furiously, JK Rowling stood up. ‘To the helicopter,’ she bellowed to her entourage. ‘I’ve had information of a ninth birthday celebration in Corbridge the place they’re utilizing unlicensed Harry Potter balloons bought from the Web. Pins at the prepared!’” Not a lot bitter grapes, this, as weak beer.

Not all the characters are grotesques. Ayanna, who works in HR, genuinely loves books, and offers it to Selfram straight: “Write a e book utilizing regular phrases; you would possibly even get pleasure from it.” Her burgeoning relationship with native lad Richard is kind of tenderly written. A few of the weird episodes and moments leverage a smile, if not a guffaw: I favored the scene the place Salman Rushdie’s bodyguards by accident taser Selfram, after which Sir Salman stands over him boasting about his many awards. In the background, the “Brotherhood of Darkness (Publishing Division)” are planning to assassinate numerous folks, together with Dan Rhodes himself. There’s fairly a good twist at the finish.

However the focus of the e book is so overwhelmingly on Selfram it unbalances the complete. The sheer depth of the animus right here is baffling. Will Self, asked how he felt to be the target of Rhodes’s novel, responded not with anger however weariness. “It’s simply woefully old-fashioned,” he mentioned. “I’m 60 for fuck’s sake. I don’t actually have any reference to the zeitgeist.” He has a level.

In his preface Rhodes recollects slights he has himself endured from the literary world, together with from Self – or as he calls him, “a mid-profile restaurant critic, Night Normal columnist and occasional novelist”. Says Rhodes: “I’ve Robertson blood and our motto is Garg’n uair dhuis gear: Fierce When Raised. I might be letting my ancestors down if I didn’t get my revenge.” Elevating ferocity is one factor. Elevating a chortle is one other.

Sour Grapes is revealed by Lightning Books (£14.99). To help the Guardian and the Observer purchase a copy at Supply fees might apply.

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