“The Best Book in the World” is the second volume to be part of the Hesperus Book Club, and they have been kind enough to provide proof copies for interested readers (of which I am one!) There seems to be a wealth of good fiction coming out of Sweden at the moment – not just crime novels – and this story is in complete contrast to last month’s featured book, “The Merman”.

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BBITW, as you might infer from the title, is a satire, taking pot-shots at the literary world and the conceits of authors, publishers, agents and the media. Our hero, if he can be called such, is Titus Jensen, a washed-up, past-it author who hasn’t written anything worthwhile for years and who has sunk into a permanent alcohol-and-cigarette fuelled haze. He is reduced to reading improbable books (“Handbook for a Volvo 245”, anyone?)) in a theatrical manner at festivals and the like to make a living, a way of life that is beginning to pall. At one such festival, hanging around afterwards in drunken haze, he encounters the younger poet Eddie X, who also appears at these events fronting a bizarre band called the Tourettes. In their rather wild and random conversation they hatch the idea of the BBITW – a book that will top every bestseller list, somehow encompassing every genre from cookery to crime. But there can only be one such book and so a race develops between the two authors – who will get the book done first?

This book is a real hoot (to use an old-fashioned phrase!) Titus is a dreadful and yet endearing character and you really want him to succeed in writing something serious again. His agent provides him with a rather bizarre computer that is somehow combined with a breathalyser and will only let him write when he’s sober! Will the drive to write the book overcome his addictions and dependencies? The contrast between Titus, staggering about all dressed in black, and romantic poet Eddie, who wafts about in silk pyjamas and the like, is very funny and well observed, as are the changes that take place in them as the book progresses – I shall say no more…

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Author photo courtesy nybookreviews.com

The roller-coaster ride takes in all sorts of shenanigans, including kidnappings, more alcohol and cigarettes, Titus’s publishers who are of course looking for a big-bucks earning book, and of course the bizarre Tourettes, a band which features Lenny (who really does have Tourette’s). There are extracts from Titus’s writings and of course the lines are blurred between author(s) and characters at several points in a clever way. The end is very satisfying and maybe a little surprising (I don’t want to give too much away) and there are plenty of laughs to be had along the way.

If I had any gripes with this book (and it would only be a tiny one) it would be on a stylistic level – the book is written in the present tense, which is not a format I tend to read much, although it works well for this tale; and the book does reflect the modern trend for shorter sentences. However, this is only a very minor issue and didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the book. BBITW is a fun, enjoyable read with a bit of a dark side and highly recommended – another winner from Hesperus!

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