John Niven - Straight White Male (4 stars)

Triumphantly entertaining assault on the literary world

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John Niven - Straight White Male

(William Heinemann)

Having viciously assaulted the music and TV industries in previous novels, Niven turns to his own trade in Straight White Male. A millionaire by the age of 30, celebrated author Kennedy Marr has decamped to LA and spends his time in a drunken, womanising haze, writing Hollywood screenplays. Life has slid off the rails though and to pay a tax bill he accepts a teaching post back in England, at the same university where his ex-wife works.

The scene-setting opening quarter of the book is a hilariously debauched account of someone who’s had it too good for too long. Marr is lovingly despicable, and having dragged his lifestyle across the Atlantic for the second half, nothing much changes. The plot may verge on the preposterous, but there’s a clever subtext examining commercial and literary worlds of fiction crashing together.

The prose is quick, with a distant narrative voice controlling the multiple characters with such assurance that it becomes a character in itself. There are some car-crash scenes that fans of Niven’s work will be familiar with, but he carefully balances farce with emotive drama, and as Marr begins to plummet towards rock bottom, he’s left to deal with consequences that prove no one can have everything. It’s overly puerile in places, Niven amusing himself as much as the reader, but for pure entertainment it’s a triumph.

Straight White Male's paperback release is due on 15 Aug 2013.

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