I first came across Colin Bateman purely by accident whilst searching for something to listen to on my walk into work and 'Mystery Man' was such a delight that I wanted to read more from this author who, it should be noted, writes with his tongue firmly in his cheek.
Ivan Connor's new novel has just been rejected by his publisher and his life seems to be on the skids. This state of affairs is made worse by Francesca Brady, successful romantic novelist who seems to be present everywhere Ivan goes. She's just landed a contract worth five million pounds and Ivan's jealousy knows no bounds. But he has a plan to beat Francesca at her own game and it's a plan which involves an escaped prisoner and the novelist writing as April May. They may or may not be one and the same person but they are certainly part of Ivan's destiny!
This book hooks the reader in from the first page and it's pretty obvious that things are not going well for poor Ivan. He's struggling to get his latest book published, he's divorced from his wife and living back at home with his mother (the only person who turned up at his last public appearance to give a reading from his latest book) and he's making ends meet by teaching a creative writing class in a women's prison.
Following an incident with a glass of water and a live microphone, resulting in Ivan being hurled across the floor, as he's being stretchered out he's presented with a copy of 'Insanity Fair', the latest work by his nemesis, Francesca Brady, a case of that lady grabbing herself a photo opportunity. It's the final straw and he ends up back at his former marital home drunk and desperate. 'I am forty years old! I have created two widely respected children and eight beautiful novels! My publisher does not care about me! I am represented by an estate agent! Nobody cares! AND I THINK I HAVE NITS IN MY HAIR!" Poor Ivan, things can only get better - but first they have to get a lot worse.
'Chapter and Verse' is a novel strong on humour and which had me laughing out loud, especially at some of the one-liners and daft situations Ivan manages to get himself into. That's not to say this is all light and fluffy humour, in many ways it's very much the opposite with a dark edginess that evokes sympathy and fellow feeling for our hapless hero, whilst still managing to make the reader laugh at every banana skin he slips on and delight at every character who end up catching his nits!
Like Lindsey Davis whose Falco books tend to take a swipe at various sections of modern society, Colin Bateman seems to be having a satirical poke here at the world of writing and publishing whilst at the same time creating a very readable and highly entertaining account of Ivan's struggle to get his life back on track and gain literary recognition. As such there are some stock characters from the world of publishing such as the owners of Ivan's publishing house Winfrey Books, who make the ultimate decision not to renew his contract; Julia, his disillusioned literary editor; and Campbell Foster, his absolutely useless agent. Campbell is rather like the Stephen Merchant character in Extras, not exactly the ideal person to sell Ivan's talents. When it's pointed out at the contract meeting that Ivan's book sale figures are on a steep decline, Campbell desperately tries to be optimistic "Sales might pick up towards Christmas - he has a large family."
Keen as I am on trashy novels, I had no problem in taking an instant dislike to Francesca Brady, a self-publicist of the worst kind who comes across as a mixture of Barbara Cartland and Jilly Cooper and I cheered Ivan on in his attempts to get the better of her. She's as unlikeable as Ivan is appealing. Despite his living mostly in cloud cuckoo land, he's a very likeable man and I desperately wanted him to get the recognition he deserved and for things to go right for him, just this once.
I'm not sure how much of Ivan's character is autobiographical but I'm pretty sure he and Colin Bateman share the same thought processes on occasion. It must be hard for respected literary writers to see their books spurned in favour of thinly veiled bonk-busters and trashy novels masquerading as prize winning literature. Campbell's tirade outside the publishers seems to be a heartful cry "It's all about looking good, giving good sound bites. If you'd tits and a smile, my friend, I'd sell you for a million. But you're just a brilliant writer and that's not enough anymore."
Drunk (again!) and miserable at the loss of his contract, Ivan hacks his novel down to 100 pages, as he's been told by a friend that only short books are ever successful, turns some of the straight sex scenes into lesbian ones whilst omitting to remove their male genitalia and masquerading as April May, he emails it, along with a picture purloined from an ancient girly calendar, to Julia at Winfrey Books. Suddenly matters go spiralling out of control as the book sets the publishing world alight - and that's before anyone has even read the manuscript! This leaves Ivan with a bit of dilemma as to who will take the place of himself as April May, author of his blockbuster 'Kissing Cousins'. After a dodgy start with the wrong woman, Ivan and Campbell eventually find the perfect April May in Donna Carbone, girl on the run.
Donna is a great character: She'd been a member of Ivan's creative writing class in the prison and despite her penchant for trite poetry, she's ideal for the role of April May and more to the point, she has Ivan's best interests at heart. Of course, Ivan fails to recognise that she's his soul mate.
This is another highly entertaining read from someone who's rapidly becoming one of my favourite authors. The book is filled with some wonderful literary barbs thrown in along the way, many of them right on target, too, be they aimed at James Joyce and Charles Dickens or more modern writers such as J K Rowling. The humour is great and will appeal to anyone with a strong sense of the ridiculous and an appreciation of irony. There are quite a few laugh out loud moments so perhaps not the best choice for reading on public transport unless you want to annoy your fellow travellers.
I bought this in Kindle format for £4.99 but it's also available in paperback from 1p and probably available for free from your local library. Whichever format you choose, I guarantee you'll thoroughly enjoy this and want to read more from the very funny Mr Bateman.