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Books: Books

Hill wages war of the words

Books

by Charlie Hill

(Tindal Street Press, £6.99)

Under capitalism, books are just another commodity to be bought and sold. These transactions are frequently made regardless of the inherent value or originality of their ideas or indeed the quality of the writing.

Knowingly third-rate tomes by celebrity pinbrains - backed by sugar-rush levels of marketing - provide consumers with an instant and short-lived high, just by dint of ownership. Actually reading them is secondary and usually a waste of time anyway.

But this agitated and jagged novel by Charlie Hill is a timely intervention in the war of position between people who love books and people who just love flogging them.

His main protagonist is bookshop owner Richard Anger. He's an intelligent, frustrated, usually drunk, practising rotter who likes nothing better than jabbing a sharp implement into the guts of contemporary literary tastes.

Anger teams up with dispassionate scientist Lauren Furrows, who has buried away her grief at the death of an earlier lover under glacial layers of observational analysis, to get to the bottom of a series of sudden and unexplained deaths.

The thing that the deceased have in common is that at the time of their demise they were reading from one of the novels of Gary Styles, a popular and predictable blockbuster writer. We know that bad books anaesthetise readers. But can they kill as well? And is this a freaky accident of dull plot and character or is it deliberate?

What follows is an only slightly exaggerated traipse over the no-man's-land of publishing, performance art and science that is both amusing and rather disturbing. Hill is a smart writer - provocative but not juvenile, ironic but not weary.

He has fashioned a serrated little weapon of war here. Read it carefully. This book could really hurt someone. Someone who probably deserves it.

Paul Simon

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