A loser embarks on the hoax of a lifetime.
Even though British newspaper columnist O’Farrell (Global Village Idiot, not reviewed) is also an experienced TV comedy writer back in the UK, this outing is more than a thinly veiled assault on the industry that has fed him (the m.o. for most TV-scribes-turned-novelists). Jimmy Conway is your basic sub–Nick Hornby waster, an ESL teacher in his 30s who lives in a sludgy seaside town and has a life not quite up to the standards set by the letters he used to write to his older self as a young teenager (based on the assumption that he’d be rich/famous by the time he read them). A sad stab at improving himself through jogging leads to a chance one-word encounter with TV personality (and jogger) Billy Scrivens, an incident Jimmy then plays up to his friends as proof of a supposed friendship. When Billy Scrivens suddenly drops dead, Jimmy, who happens to be walking/jogging by, is interviewed as one of Billy’s mates, a misunderstanding that gets turned into an invitation to Billy’s funeral. At the service, Jimmy tells someone he’s a comedian, a lie that grows legs when a reporter decides he wants to do a story on him. Pretty soon Jimmy, who doesn’t believe he’s done much else with his life up to this point besides walk the dog (“Youth is like the mornings: if you don’t make a good start before lunch, you’re in danger of wasting the whole day”), is fabricating an entire double life for himself as an edgy anti-spotlight comic who’s infamous for some routine involving a fish. O’Farrell keeps Jimmy juggling his two lives far longer than you’d think possible, and even though it all comes to a frustratingly snappy ending (O’Farrell is a TV writer, after all), there are enough brilliant comic monologues to keep the pages flipping right by.
A mordant update of the Emperor’s New Clothes that’s often deeper than it thinks it is.