The Couch Surfer: 'Celebrity endorsements rarely convince me of a book's quality'

Tim Walker: I had to get my hands on the thing. If everyone else is after it, it must be worth reading, right?

Share
Related Topics

As I was exiting a central London Tube station last week, my eyes were drawn to a large black poster containing a single word in a bold white typeface: "Tomas".

I'd seen the ad before, plastered all over the underground. Tomas, it turned out, is the just-published debut novel by James Palumbo, formidable-sounding scion of the Palumbo property dynasty, founder of Ministry of Sound, and 406th (equal) richest person in Britain.

Stellar one-line tributes clogged the neighbouring posters. Pete Tong described Tomas as "American Psycho comes to Europe"; Niall Ferguson called it "Grotesque yet gripping"; Noel Fielding claimed "The noises I made whilst reading [it] frightened people on the train." Stephen Fry was unequivocal: "Amazing... the most energetic and surreal and extraordinary novel I have read for a very long time."

Celebrity endorsements rarely convince me of a book's quality. Surely Palumbo just has influential friends who can persuade their influential friends to provide favourable quotes? "American Psycho comes to Europe" sounds more like a bad horror sequel than a Booker nominee. And does Noel Fielding really need to make noises to frighten people on trains?

Still, I was close to Charing Cross Road, London's most literary thoroughfare, and intrigued enough to seek the book out. I'll peruse the blurb and be done with it, I thought. In Foyles bookshop, however, no joy: the first handful of copies had arrived that day and swiftly been sold. I crossed the street to Borders, where one copy remained in stock, or so said the computer. But in the fiction section I discovered two other blokes sifting in vain through Pamuk and Palahniuk. The elusive Palumbo was nowhere to be found.

The story was the same at Blackwell's. By now I had to get my hands on the thing. If everyone else is after it, it must be worth a read, right?

Back in the office the next day, I popped out at lunchtime to the local Waterstone's. The assistant knew the book without consulting a computer, so I wasn't the first to enquire about it. They'd ordered another 26 copies, she said, after the first small batch sold out. The manager hadn't anticipated its popularity.

And how could they? Despite the posters and endorsements, I can't find a single mainstream press review of the book. Many of the glowing notices on Amazon were written before publication, so could be planted by family and friends.

There was one brief, lukewarm write-up in a London freesheet. A couple of newspapers ran pieces by or about Palumbo, but touched only tangentially on the book itself. One of this newspaper's literary editors told me they'd skimmed the thing and didn't feel compelled to cover it. Has Palumbo himself been out buying up copies to imitate demand?

The book, in case you're wondering (I know I was), is a fantasy satire of the celebrity high-life, replete with plenty of sex and violence. Set in Cannes, it involves a TV channel called Shit TV, and a man called Tomas, famous for pooing in public places, who becomes a killer.

I finally resorted to calling the PR man responsible for the Tomas hype and threw myself on his mercy. Apparently the publishers have already been forced to produce a second run of the book. As I write, I'm waiting for a complimentary copy to land on my desk. And yet – because it's the hype machine that has manipulated my obsession – I find myself almost hoping to hate it.

***

George Lamb recently made a BBC documentary about legal highs, the drugs taken (mostly) by teens who want to get wasted without breaking the law. Before taking a breath from a bong filled with salvia, George said: "It would seem slightly absurd to make a film about legal highs without having tried one."

This participatory approach seems to be a pre-requisite for a celebrity-hosted documentary, but why exactly did George need to try the drugs? I've seen plenty of great documentaries that don't require their presenters to partake in the activities they're reporting. Would Chris Moyles carry a kitchen knife in his belt if he were making a film on violent crime? For the programme-makers, it seemed, five minutes of George getting stoned wasn't just another bit of the investigation, but the reason for making the programme in the first place.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Supply Teacher - Loughborough

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Teacher looking fo...

Primary General Cover Teachers

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Newly Qualified Teacher lo...

Part Time Primary Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Part Time Primary TeacherOur...

Science Technician

£7 - £8 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: The Job:School Science Technici...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

To see how the establishment operates, you really needed to be at this week’s launch party for Andrew Marr’s new book

John Walsh
Ballots arrive to be counted at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre during the Scottish referendum in Aberdeen  

Scottish referendum: The pain that was inflicted on family and friends by David Cameron’s narrow politics

Andrea Calderwood
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week