The Afterparty

From The Independent:

Book The back cover of the journalist Leo Benedictus's debut is emblazoned with details of a gimmicky publicity campaign. Or is it? That this is actually part of the novel is only one of the feats of trickery that Benedictus pulls off in this shockingly accomplished novel. Even the dedication turns out to be part of the same achingly smart metafictional joke. Novels within novels are often Pandora's boxes of complexity, and nowhere more than here. The story kicks off with an email to a literary agent, Val, from a writer, William, wanting to get his debut novel published. The first chapter of William's novel follows, plunging the reader into William's fearlessly funny prose. In it, a dweeby red-top sub editor, Michael, takes refuge in the loos at the exclusive party in London to celebrate the birthday of Hugo, a reclusive film star. Michael is a timid soul. He would rather have stayed in his taxi and be subjected to the cabbie's stories than brave the party, and within the social setting sees himself as “a sterile node. Humanity's appendix.” Having not been personally invited, he knows that he doesn't fit in with the glamorous throng, which includes Hugo's coke-snarfing model wife, Mellody, and the callow but puppyish X-Factor reject Calvin, whose beauty is buying him teeny adoration and commercial success. William emails Val with more chapters as he writes them. The novel's important events unfurl at the titular afterparty, where the unbridled entertainment of the earlier chapters darkens. But that tale, compellingly recounted as it is, isn't the only one. William's occasional tetchiness with Val hints that all is not well in his life, and, as with Andy Coulson or Alastair Campbell, the story manager becomes bigger than the story.

William's novel hums with astute comments on celebrity, and characters that pulse with life and depth, and are observed with delicious insight. Gormless Calvin wonders, for example, why Mellody's Pete Doherty-esque ex says, “Not tonight Josephine”, “in a voice like he was quoting someone”, and earnestly looks forward to releasing his own version of Chris de Burgh's “Lady in Red” – much to the jeering derision of the cool hipsters around him.

More here.