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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn