No genre or author unscathed

Notable authors, politicians,  royalty and celebrities who have their literary offerings...
Notable authors, politicians, royalty and celebrities who have their literary offerings lampooned in John Crace's ''Digested Read'' parodies include Pippa Middleton...
Tony Blair...
Tony Blair...
J K Rowling. Photos by Reuters.
J K Rowling. Photos by Reuters.

THE DIGESTED 21ST CENTURY<br><b>John Crace</b><br><i>Constable</i>
THE DIGESTED 21ST CENTURY<br><b>John Crace</b><br><i>Constable</i>
This book is a collection of Guardian feature writer John Crace's ''Digested Read'' parodies, the column in which he summarises in 700-800 words the latest books by many of the most popular names in literature.

Crace pulls no punches. His synopses can be caustic, coarse and cringeworthy. They are also spot on and often hilarious. Apparently they are suffered by the lampooned authors for this reason, although I do wonder how this can be the case with some.

Nothing, no-one and no genre is sacred. Crace picks on quirks of style, structure, plot, punctuation and personality.

''Chick lit'' and ''lad lit'' authors such as E.L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey), Jilly Cooper, Nick Hornby, Ben Elton et al make easy targets. But he fair shreds the serious fiction heavweights such as Sebastian Faulks, Ian McEwan, Annie Proulx and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, too.

Crace's take on So Much For That reads: ''Flicka had, of course, been born with a rare disability that meant she would die soon ... 'I hate my life,' she spat. 'Why did I have to end up in a Lionel Shriver book, where everything is always s***?''

Bret Easton Ellis' Imperial Bedrooms: ''I've no intention of ever explaining anything, so I shrug in a cool sort of way and hope the critics will love the empty unreliability of my narration.''

He takes beloved children's author J.K. Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith in her adult crime novel) to task for her use of metaphors in The Cuckoo's Calling: ''The buzz in the street was like the humming of flies ... as the paparazzi stamped their feet on the pavement that was as icy as frozen water ... Cormoran Strike's eyes were as chilly as the world outside ... he sucked deeply on a cigarette, pondering a future that looked as empty as a room with no furniture.''

The autobiographical musings, memoirs and letters of political figures, celebrities and royalty are far from sacred. The Queen Mother is not off limits, neither is former British prime minister Tony Blair. His memoir, A Journey, reads: ''There are events and politicians who are absent, not because they don't matter, but because they are part of a different story to the self-serving one I want to tell ... I find that Mo Mowlam's part in the Northern Ireland peace process has been rather overstated. So to put the record straight, it was all down to me. The talks had reached an impasse and I said to Gerry and David, 'Look guys, we're on a journey', and they said 'Cool Tony, we're with you'. If only Iraq had been that simple.''

Cooking and lifestyle offerings, self-help or personal advice guides, are fair game, and Crace's takes on celebrity chefs Nigella Lawson, Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver and cooking and lifestyle offerings by Gwyneth Paltrow and Pippa Middleton are very funny.

Naomi Wolf is no more printable in Crace's ''digested'' form, and the likes of Keith Richards, Jeremy Clarkson, Bill Bryson and Sarah Palin also provide great fodder.

In addition to the ''Digested Read'', Crace provides a one-line further digested synopsis.

Thus, Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go is reduced to ''The triumph of style over substance'', Vladimir Nabokov's The Original of Laura: A Novel in Fragments to ''A reputation in fragments'' and Martin Amis' Lionel Asbo to ''Martin Asbeen''. Few authors escape, although Crace clearly has a soft spot for Ian Rankin (Resurrection Men): ''The bodies pile up as fast as the drinks, as Edinburgh's finest makes his annual appearance.''

I particularly loved zee hilarious take on Pamela Druckerman's French Children Don't Throw Food (mais non!), and neither are they mollycoddled: ''A French maman will dire: 'Vie est un bitch, et puis you die' and as a result French children are extremely well adjusted to existential ennui.''

Essential reading for any literature lover with a sense of humour, and the perfect present.


Win a copy
The ODT has five copies of The Digested 21st Century by John Crace (RRP $36.99) to give away courtesy of Allen & Unwin and its imprint, Constable. For your chance to win a copy, email helen.speirs@odt.co.nz with your name and postal address in the body of the email, and ''Digested Book Competition'' in the subject line, by 5pm on Tuesday, July 22.

- Helen Speirs is ODT books editor.

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