CLOSE-UP: REVIEW/THE BOOK, THE FILM, THE T-SHIRT - Beaumont's second tale hits close enough for discomfort

Larry Barker ponders Matt Beaumont's latest potshot at the advertising industry.

You can take the boy out of advertising, but you can't take advertising out of the boy.

This is Matt Beaumont's second bite at the hand that used to feed him. And once again, we hardly come out of it smelling of roses. Shallow characters, cliched dialogue, insane plot.

Not the normal requirements of a novel but, hey, this is advertising, and that, we are told, pretty much sums us up. At least, it does in the eyes of the author.

Beaumont's first outing took the form of a series of e-mails - giving the book a pace and readability that made it an instant hit.

Here, the narrative unfolds in a series of statements from the dozen or so larger-than-life characters that populate the piece.

This allows the "statement and rebuttal" mechanic that is the source of a lot of the gags: we hear both sides of the sad and sorry story - exposing the lies and hypocrisy for what they are.

But whereas, before, the e-mails described conversations between many different people, this format only allows for first-person dialogue with the reader.

And this makes for a sluggish read, rather like a shooting script. (Although, these days, with most novels being a pre-emptive strike at a screenplay, this may well be a deliberate move - in that case, good luck to him.)

Don't get me wrong, there are some toe-curlingly good moments in this book.

The client's shoot attire (an early "Foreigner" tour jacket) is horribly redolent of the bizarre transformation these otherwise sensible people go through when they get within sniffing distance of a camera.

Norman the Cook is like every catering manager you've ever met. And some.

I giggled at the name of the agency - Scheidt Fuller - the only shop in the history of advertising not to have a row about the order of the names over the door. And the whole ludicrous producer/director luvvie-fest is neatly observed.

It does tend to slip into cliche, though. The client's language is straight out of Reggie Perrin, for instance. Putting the suffix "-wise" at the end of every other word isn't really good enough, comedy-wise.

But a more fundamental problem lies at the heart of this and every other book that deals with this business called Ad. Who is it aimed at?

We in the business know that some grade-one wank takes place in the name of marketing. We mangle the language and spend our lives looking at things through the wrong end of the telescope. We spend enough money to keep a thousand starving Africans alive every time we shoot an ad. And it's our decision as to whether we're OK with that.

The observations in this book, in the main, shed no new light on the issues we all face every time we go to the office.

They're either "givens", eg. creatives like foreign shoots (well, duh!), or they're hopelessly exaggerated. Some are funny. Some aren't.

So, what of a general audience?

Well, sad to say, I don't think they are as interested in us as we are in them.

Will they, like us, read this with the knowing smile of familiarity?

Or will they simply see a bunch of shallow people getting into a stew over a stupid advert?

Consequently, to compensate for this, you get the feeling Beaumont has ramped up the plot to a frenetic degree, in an attempt to keep them reading.

In the hands of a Tom Sharpe, this works brilliantly. But here, there is sometimes a tendency to do this at the expense of character.

Simply put, I'm not sure I like, let alone care about, any of the people in this book.

They're all ghastly, the only redeemable character being the creative director's cheated-upon wife, who, in a last serpentine twist of the plot, comes out on top.

The rest are merely ciphers from the Ladybird Book of Advertising, going over pretty much the same ground as in the first book.

I know, back then, it almost became a national sport, trying to guess who was based on who in e.

This was mainly because we were all so thrilled that someone had bothered to write about our little business in the first place. Somehow, I don't think this will have the same effect. These characters feel much more generic - straight from central casting, in fact.

But can you blame the author? How many times have we said, if it ain't broke don't fix it? It's why we still have the red telephone, the Lurpack butter man and Tony the tiger. Not particularly groundbreaking, but they get the job done.

And perhaps that's what this book's all about. It plays to the gallery, takes the piss out of the usual suspects and, on a couple of occasions, makes you laugh out loud.

And it is worth reading, even if only to savour the extraordinarily low esteem in which the author holds the industry.

If you want to feel better about yourself, however, you might want to give it a miss.


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