IN&OUTTONIGHT REVIEWS 26 Tuesday, 25 August 2009 London Lite Given that all three Top Gear presenters can get up your nose more than mustard powder, James Mays Car Fever is not half bad. Unusually for an author, he starts with an apology for it being a book full of second-hand newspaper columns (its a collection of his articles published in a Saturday motoring supplement). But from that tricky hill start, May takes the reader -- non-petrolheads included -- along a jolly journey of opinions, experiences and anecdotes. We learn that he has flogged his gas- guzzling Range Rover for a 1.2-litre Fiat Panda, that he thinks all cars should come with in-built dustbins and that he once wrote to Father Christmas requesting a Yamaha moped. its not all irreverent nonsense, though. May dismisses the current fad for daft eco cars on the grounds of their cute appearance. And as he rightly points out, if, as is the case with the G-Wiz, one of these Mr Bean vehicles takes six hours to recharge, what on earth is the owner going to do for that time while sitting in the service stations coffee shop? There are many strange questions posed in Car Fever, and for the most part May provides spot-on answers. none more so than when he wonders if -- like the rest of us -- Sir elton John ever has decluttering days? And the answer? Well, that would spoil the story, wouldnt it? JAMES ANTHONY N oW arguably Britains most popular satirist, iannucci is having a golden year. The acclaim for in The Loop, the movie spin-off of The Thick of it, has out-gushed even that granted to previous collaborative crea- tions such as Alan Partridge and The Day Today. As a writer/producer/director hes approaching national treasure status, with public figures queuing to be insulted (oh, do me! Me!) and his not conventionally photogenic face ubiquitous. Hes been the subject of a South Bank Show special and slated by Alastair Campbell. His brand of cynicism is the new black. This collection of his writ- ing is comprised of newspaper and magazine columns and other essays. Unlike in The Loop, it does not base its humour on gargantuan feats of swearing. The pieces are keen to highlight the absurdity of our world: politi- cians, celebrities, media crazes and anything else hapless enough to stumble into range. Some are better than others. Too often, he embarks on promisingly coruscating rants only to wriggle out, tittering at his rattled targets like a naughty school- boy, before the job is done. is calling David Cameron a bum-faced southern ponce with a tiny washer for a mouth clever? is informing us that Smack My Bitch Up was written for Lassie par- ticularly funny or insightful? obviously hes busy, but the gags frequently feel like notes jotted down towards a gag, rather than honed humdingers. They lack the bloody-minded focus of a Charlie Brooker and fall short of the finesse and pitch of American humor- ists such as Dave Barry. That said, theres a cumula- tive effect to his scattergun spoutings. You are beaten into submission and a laughter that comes from admiration -- if not the affection that great comics also coax. imaginary dialogues between Barack obama and Cameron, and between Stephen Hawking and Robert Mugabe are wickedly irreverent. Theres a certain genius to invented Tv schedules that include Pope idol, Crime Witch and Strictly Come Fasting, even if the castiga- tion of reality shows is hackneyed. Your reaction to other hatchet jobs will depend on your opinion of the victims: lampooning Sir Richard Bransons self-righteousness seems dandy, but a Helen Keller quip would be deemed gauche by a fourth-former. When hes good, hes great. A piece on the excess of entertainment were bom- barded by and the pressure we are under to view and hear everything is bang on, while his thesis that the Statue of Liberty is made of cork is visionary. iannucci needs a harness, but theres many a mirthful, misanthropic moment here. REVIEWSBOOKS Loopyworldof abrilliantcynic FastenyourseatbeltsforaTop Geardriveeveryonecanenjoy Fiction Generation A ByDouglasCoupland(WilliamHeinemann,16.99) HHHII in 1991, Douglas Couplands satire Generation X defined the slacker zeitgeist and had a meteoric impact on pop culture. it gave a name to a generation of overqualified, underpaid twentysomethings and introduced the term McJob. its hard to imagine its sequel doing anything quite as dramatic. Generation A is set in the near future, where bees are extinct. in this arid dystopia, five strangers get zapped by solitary stingers. They are put into isolation, the theory being that human emotions have somehow poisoned the hives, and that these five are special. With me so far? it gets even more surreal from there. Coupland is a smart, witty writer, but the problem is his apocalyptic vision doesnt quite ring true. Bees are dying from disease, not depression, and global warming -- surely a major player in any future Armageddon -- hardly gets a mention. The short stories in the second half, like those in Generation X, are a delight. The problem with the rest of the book is that the future feels rather unsatisfying -- a McFuture, in other words. AMBER COWAN IF YOU have ever ventured into online dating then you will no doubt already have amusing stories to share. Catherine Sanderson addresses this particular dating gauntlet in her latest book. A follow-up to her successful blog-turned-book Petite Anglaise, French Kissing is about a Brit, Sally Marshall, who has been living in Paris for 10 years. She ventures into online dating after breaking up with the father of her daughter, Lila. Sally isnt exactly sure what shes looking for but signs up to dating site Rendezvous anyway. Determined to have some fun despite a disapproving mother and a difficult ex, Sally does manage to kiss a few frogs -- and not all of the French variety -- in search of her prince. This book will bring a smile to your face, as Sally experiences stilted first-date chat and amazing one-night stand sex. But does she manage to bag a boyfriend...? REBEccA BoYcE THiS is a book about the Twenties in America, and it packs everything in. its about Prohibition, which actually made people want to drink, Al Capone, who provided the booze, and F Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote books about the people who drank it. But it doesnt stop there: its also about Fatty Arbuckle and his nasty scandal, tragic Harry Crosby and the Americans in Paris, the Ku Klux Klan and the crash of 1929. Moore whizzes through these things very fast, and, luckily, rather well. WILLIAM LEITH Anything Goes ByLucyMoore (Atlantic,8.99) Newpaperbacks motoRinG car Fever ByJamesMay(Hodder&Stoughton,18.99) HHHHI AS AN essayist, Andrew OHagan specialises in the aftermath of things -- he is particularly interested in how things end up. Hes an excellent writer, full of heart. Here, he travels the country to look at the death of British farming, and he also goes to America to talk to people who suffered Hurricane Katrina. More than this, he begs on the streets, gets involved with the world of garbage, and sails the Clyde on a boat carrying human excrement. WL the Atlantic ocean ByAndrewOHagan (Faber,10.99) in A hugely ambitious way, Adam Thirlwell tries to take us into the minds of the greatest writers ever to have lived. What a task! But lots of things here are superb -- Thirlwell tells you about Flaubert, Proust, Tolstoy, Cervantes, Chekhov and nabokov, and finds lovely little nuggets about their styles and personalities. Mostly, they were obsessed by tiny details, like how to use tenses or develop an authorial voice. Sounds very technical, but Thirlwell loves these people and it shows. WL miss Herbert ByAdamThirlwell (Vintage,10.99) tHE BiG REAd the Audacity of Hype ByArmandoIannucci HHHII cHRis RoBERts cHick Lit French kissing ByCatherineSanderson(Penguin,7.99) HHHII Jolly: James May National treasure: Armando Iannucci index.html2.html3.html4.html5.html6.html7.html8.html9.html10.html11.html12.html13.html14.html15.html16.html17.html18.html19.html20.html21.html22.html23.html24.html25.html26.html27.html28.html29.html30.html31.html32.html33.html34.html35.html