The first novel from the so-called "Banksy of poetry" and "Twitter's unofficial poet laureate" is an absolute joy. I am very wary of likening anything to the genius of Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole, but I'll make an exception here. This is the diary of Brian Bilston, who aspires to be a full-time poet, and is not having the easiest time what with his awful job, his ex-wife's new man, his poor relationship with his teenage son, etc. Even his beloved Poetry Group offers no respite because Toby Salt, his arch-nemesis, has somehow got a book deal
As clever as Bilston’s poems are, four hundred pages of Bilstonic verse would start to grate. Fortunately, the diary entries do the heavy lifting. Bilston has perfected his comic voice, which brings to mind a bitter man-child with spades of misanthropic charm and a dash of Alan Partridge-esque pedantry. This is a comic novel of the highest order.
Frustrated Twitter poet Brian Bilston dreams of literary success, but, in real life, is miserable and obsessed with the bin collection.... There are shades of Adrian Mole, but I’m afraid I mostly found this man irritating. I also preferred the prose to the poems, even though I know some are bad on purpose.
This book has everything you want from a comic novel. There is the humour of everyday events (the ceaseless failure of the Man At Number 29 to put out the right bin on bin day), a wonderful cast of minor characters (Kaylee and her malapropisms — ‘stop casting all these nasturtiums’), a subplot concerning Toby Salt’s sudden disappearance, and another one about Liz at Poetry Club that will have you screaming ‘just kiss her’.
Bilston was first published by the crowdfunded imprint Unbound, then taken up by Picador. He has done them proud. Diary of a Somebody is packed with droll puns, whimsical riffs and deft parodies, some of which I was pleased to spot before I realised (deflatingly) that they are all attributed in a list at the end. And yet I don’t think it’s an outstanding book, let alone, as the publisher’s blurb claims, “the most original novel you will read this or any year”. Does it even mean to be? Bilston is a magician with words, but he’s no storyteller; the plot is on the level of a sitcom, as are its characters... Diary of a Somebody keeps up a stream of witticisms that is admirable and relentless and, in the end, a little bit tiresome. It has no variation in tone or pace, which over a long stretch does the comedy no favours.
This debut novel by and about Brian Bilston, the purveyor of supremely self-aware parody poems, is a welcome reminder of the joy to be had when you put yourself in the hands of someone who knows their way round both a joke and a bittersweet narrative. Our hero tells his story through a year of diary entries. He is Adrian Mole if he had grown up accruing Smiths LPs as well as rejection letters from the BBC; Bridget Jones reinvented as a 45-year-old introverted divorcée with a teenage son. Diary of a Somebody is a lot of fun... the book gets bogged down as summer arrives and Brian has only his own terminal diffidence keeping him from happiness. Plenty of brilliant men are socially and emotionally hopeless, but, even so, Brian’s feebleness in his pursuit of Sophie wears thin. Thankfully, the narrative recovers as he becomes a suspect in the shock disappearance of Salt. The solution is all a bit Scooby-Doo and takes a bit long to get to. There are so many laughs in here, though, allied with just enough hints of emotional growth, that you rally behind Brian as he fights rather coyly to clear his name... The whole escapade is shot through with a love of the joys of language and an accompanying disdain for those who try to use it as a weapon against us rather than a thing to be shared and enjoyed by all of us... It’s funny and ingenious and as easy to consume as Brian’s daily mid-morning Twix.