Forget celebrity books, it's their pets' tales that are flying off the shelves

Sales of the stars' real memoirs may be plummeting, but animal autobiographies and canine kiss-and-tells are storming the literary charts. And they're often better written, too. Arifa Akbar reports

If its critics are right and the bloated, badly written "celebrity memoir" has had its day, an exotic offshoot of the genre is taking its place.

The spoof memoir – be it written from the point of view of a celebrity's dog or their cute-yet-complex pet chimpanzee, or a fake autobiography of a politician with leadership ambitions – is now stirring the imagination of the publishing industry. It still has its marketable celebrity element, yet no ghost writers are required, nor is there any need to check facts.

Ever since James Lever earned a Booker Prize nomination for the spoof life story Me Cheeta, which was written from the perspective of an ageing silver-screen chimpanzee who starred in Hollywood's Tarzan films, a spate of fake confessionals has followed. They each simultaneously look askance at celebrity culture, while benefiting from the public's appetite for it.

Lever's novel has sold more than 50,000 copies since its publication last year. Shortly after it came another spoof memoir. Bubbles: My Secret Diary, From Swaziland to Neverland is a variation on Lever's theme, and is based on the eventful life story of Michael Jackson's pet chimpanzee, organised as a collection of "very personal and honest entries from Bubbles' diary".

The book sparked a bidding war in America and Australia, and its publisher John Blake suggested its contents would shine a light on a troubled mind – Bubbles' that is, not Jackson's.

"Behind his seemingly perfect life of glamorous friends, gold-plated tyre swings and personal chefs, there is a dark history of medical experiments, addiction and loss," he said. Nicholas Pearson, publishing director at Fourth Estate, who conceived the idea for Me Cheeta after reading a news story reporting the real-life chimpanzee's 65th birthday celebrations in America, said he was reacting against the glut of celebrity memoirs published in recent years. "They were making me feel slightly sick," he said.

While the celebrity memoir is often criticised for being poorly written and containing pedestrian C-list subjects, Lever's spoof was praised for being sharp, witty and brilliantly imagined. But a year on, with more spoofs on the shelves, Mr Pearson suggested "there is only room for a certain number of animal autobiographies in the world".

Yet the writer Andrew O'Hagan, who will see his The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of his friend Marilyn Monroe published in May, said this genre precedes Lever's book by centuries.

The satirical or wise anthropomorphic narrative has long been a literary trope, perfected in Aesop's Fables, and adopted by Jonathan Swift and George Orwell. "It is part of a joyful tradition of satirical animals who somehow say something about society," O'Hagan said. He added that he had had an extraordinary amount of interest in his book, with filmmakers discussing an adaptation and publishers showing interest across Europe and the world.

"It connected with our interest in personalising the experience of celebrity.... It is a documentation of our times, our love of celebrity and our obsession with public tragedy," he said.

He suggested the genre's popularity may also reflect our recession-ridden times. "There's something in the air at the moment: we need a cultural moment of comedy," he argued. "We have lived through some dark times, and perhaps a degree of the unreal and the miraculous has crept into our lives."

His book was conceived in 1999, when during an auction of Monroe's personal possessions by Christie's, he came across the story of her dog, Maf, who was given to her as a present in 1960 by Frank Sinatra .

"Maf had an incredibly colourful life, being part of the litter brought up by the housekeeper of Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, who were leading lights in the Bloomsbury Group," O'Hagan explained . "It's wonderfully absurd to think of the idea of a white Maltese witnessing events and being connected to so much of 20th century culture."

Bill Coles, who last year brought out a fake autobiography of Lord Lucan, has now written his second spoof, this time assuming the voice of the Conservative Party leader David Cameron called Dave Cameron's Schooldays. The book was this week picked by Waterstone's as its "book of the month".

Mr Coles said such memories intended to weave fact with fiction seamlessly and often contained a sting.

"I'm not saying that he is ridiculous (in the book) but he has his weaknesses – his predilection for promoting his Bullingdon Club friends and surrounding himself with Old Etonians," he said. "At Eton, we learned that one of the lessons of survival was to 'deny, deny, deny'. I'm saying that lesson stood Cameron in good stead as a politician."

A spokesman for Waterstone's said the trend was in keeping with Britain's tendency towards satire.

"The British have always loved to poke fun at those they feel may need taking down a peg or two, and the spoof memoir is a classic example of the satirist's art. Politicians obviously lend themselves well to this form of lampooning, hence the success recently of Going Rouge [about Sarah Palin] and currently Dave Cameron's Schooldays."

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living