Successful pivot from quizshow sidekick to bestselling author … Richard Osman. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Guardian
Haven’t found the time to read Osman’s The Bullet That Missed yet, or Dawn O’Porter’s Cat Lady? Relax – we’ve done it for you. And it was a treat!
Not so long ago, you couldn’t move for celebrity memoirs. It didn’t matter how famous you were – a television presenter, a professional footballer, some vaguely recognisable reality TV git – at some point you would write an autobiography (or bark some nonsense at an indifferent ghostwriter), give it a terrible title such as Reflections or Unfiltered or My Story and sit back as you watched the money roll in.
Now, celebrity autobiographies haven’t gone away completely – two of the most inescapable books this autumn are memoirs by Matthew Perry and Bono – but they are sputtering out. After all, there are only so many celebrities in the world, and traditionally you can only tell your life story once. But if you are a public figure with a large and willing audience, you might be loath to give up all that sweet publishing cash, so what is a celebrity to do?
Increasingly, the answer seems to be to bang out a novel. Encouraged, perhaps, by Richard Osman’s successful pivot from quizshow sidekick to bestselling author, in recent times a huge swathe of people off the telly have turned in novels of their own. And, unlike previous waves of celebrity novels – when the likes of Katie Price and Kerry Katona churned out ghostwritten filler at an almighty clap – these ones do actually do seem to have been written by the people whose names appear on the jacket. But are they any good?
The Best Things by Mel Giedroyc
Plot Sally Parker is the bored wife of an elaborately rich hedge fund manager. She has a full-time nanny, a chef and someone to groom her dogs. But when her husband suddenly goes bankrupt, all this is whipped away from her and she can start to find herself again. This debut novel comes from the comedian and former Bake Off co-host Mel Giedroyc, one half of Mel and Sue.
Main character Sally, a woman who gleefully rediscovers her can-do attitude when all the unnecessary peripherals start to fall away.
Writing style Lively. It is impossible to read The Best Things in anything other than Giedroyc’s voice. In particular Sally, who, while starting out as a slightly unlikable trophy housewife, quickly blossoms into a full-blown Giedroyc analogue, with spunk and pep and let’s-smile-through-the-bad-times determination. But this isn’t a bad thing in the slightest. In interviews, Giedroyc has spoken of her desire to turn The Best Things into a “Leatherhead Trilogy”. Hopefully this will come to fruition. Quite frankly, there can’t be enough of her in the world.
Previous works Two nonfiction books, From Here to Maternity and Going Ga Ga.
Cover quote “I enjoyed it HUGELY” – Marian Keyes.
Most recent Amazon review (at the time of writing) “There were so many current pop culture references that it almost felt like the book was written by a teenager.”
Who should buy this book? Fans of The Great British Bake Off, especially fans who have just started to notice how wobbly the show has got without her.
The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman
Plot The Thursday Murder Club – four pensioners who live in a fictional Kent retirement village, and keep their minds active by solving old crimes together – are back for their third trip around the block, written by Osman, the TV producer turned host of Pointless turned novelist. This time, a local news presenter investigating VAT fraud is run off the road and over the edge of a cliff on the A20 near Dover. Can our heroes succeed where the police failed?
Main character Technically, the Thursday Murder Club are an ensemble – Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim – but the leader is arguably Elizabeth, an ex-spy and primary carer for her husband, who has dementia.
Writing style Very warm. As other reviewers have noted, you don’t buy Osman books to piece together a hard-boiled mystery; you do it to float along with the members of the club for a while. This instalment is no exception and it brims with drily funny touches (two pensioners go on a date to “a Nando’s and a laser tag”). There are no big literary flourishes, no sense that Osman is reaching for something beyond his grasp. Instead, this is a straight-down-the-line popular crime novel. And he is very, very good at it. Part of Osman’s appeal is how familiar he is willing to be, whether to his readers, viewers or Twitter followers. This is incredibly evident here, primarily in the acknowledgments, which are written in the style of a letter to his granny.
Previous works Two other Thursday Murder Club books, Richard Osman’s House of Games, A Pointless History of the World, The World Cup of Everything: Bringing the Fun Home.
Most recent Amazon review “Richard was able to gently place a smile on my face on multiple occasions.”
Who should buy this book? Nobody, because either you already own a copy or you’re destined to get three or four for Christmas in a few weeks.
Forever Home by Graham Norton
Plot A fiftysomething woman is devastated when her partner is diagnosed with dementia and his children turf her out of the home they shared. Her partner was insistent that the house should never be sold. But why? Graham Norton, now an established author in addition to his TV and radio career, finds out.
Main character Carol, a middle-aged woman forced to move back in with her parents after her stepchildren cut her out of their lives. Her life is turned around by an incredible discovery in the basement.
Writing style Norton, it turns out, is a magnificent novelist. The story of Forever Home is a simple one, but it hinges on a big twist halfway through. A lesser writer would have hurried to get to the big moment sooner, or at least gleefully started to drop bigger and bigger breadcrumbs. But Norton is a model of restraint. He spends chapter after chapter making doubly sure you feel the way he wants you to feel about each character before dropping his bomb.
Previous works Three novels (Holding, A Keeper and Home Stretch), a quick-read novel (The Swimmer), two memoirs (The Lives and Loves of a He Devil and So Me) and an agony uncle book (Ask Graham).
Cover quote “His grasp of human loneliness and longing is beautiful and comforting” – Marian Keyes (again).
Most recent Amazon review “Maeve Binchy the best Irish Author Sorry Graham I left your book half read.”
Who should buy this book? People who have read Osman’s books and want something a little bit darker and knottier. Also, everyone else. This is a very good book.
Love Untold by Ruth Jones
Plot A story told over four generations of Welsh women – an unstoppable pensioner, her estranged daughter, her abandoned daughter, and then her daughter – written by the actor and Gavin and Stacey co-creator Ruth Jones. Can these women heal the complex wounds that drove them apart?
Main character The story is told from the perspective of all four characters, although the main one is Grace, a woman approaching her 90th birthday with the same energy that most approach their 30th. We meet her on a beach, snapping at a patronising do-gooder, and things progress from there.
Writing style Love Untold has a plot, but its real joy is in how Jones digs her fingernails into decades of complicated family history. The risk here would be to boil down at least one of the generations to stereotype, but Jones fiercely resists this. These are four complicated, singular women on their own paths and the story comes entirely from watching them rub against each other. It is stridently confident when it comes to hitting you around the head with sentiment until you relent and start crying, too. Jones could write books like this for the rest of her life and they’d all be brilliant.
Previous works Two other novels, Never Greener and Us Three.
Cover quote “A big warm blanket of a book” – Jojo Moyes.
Most recent Amazon review “I’m going to give this one to my 94-year-old mum!”
Who should buy this book? People who don’t mind dissolving into big, ugly sobs on public transport.
The Satsuma Complex by Bob Mortimer
Plot Gary, a down-at-heel London solicitor, goes for a drink with a friend. The next day, the friend goes missing. Meanwhile, Gary meets and falls for a mysterious woman. Could the two be connected? And why does Gary keep having conversations with a slightly belligerent squirrel? The debut novel by comedian Bob Mortimer has the answers.
Main character Gary, a man with a job that Mortimer used to have, in the same location where Mortimer used to work. He also has the exact same cadence, vocabulary and thought processes as Mortimer, as seen in his long digressions about pies. That said, Gary is described as having a slightly larger nose than Mortimer, so they are definitely different people.
Writing style Gary is not the only character from The Satsuma Complex who talks like Mortimer, because – with very few exceptions – they all do. Both Gary’s elderly neighbour and the mystery woman are more than happy to veer off on long, absurd tangents about oddly worded minutiae. Even the squirrel picks up an intrinsically Mortimery cadence along the way. Which isn’t a bad thing. If Mortimer had written a terse thriller where everyone talks like a Hemingway character, it would have alienated his entire fanbase. This – a funny, riffy, sometimes unexpectedly sad book – is much better.
Previous works An autobiography (And Away…) and a Mortimer and Whitehouse: Gone Fishing tie-in gift book.
Most recent Amazon review “It is very well written, a one-off, with a curious oddball cast (including a squirrel!), and a nicely developed plot.”
Who should buy this book? Fans of Mortimer, primarily. And that isn’t exactly a niche group: the man is so beloved that, for a while, The Satsuma Complex managed to out-sell the unsinkable Osman.
Cat Lady by Dawn O’Porter
Plot Mia has it all: a husband, a stepson, an important job and a cat. However, she increasingly feels as if she is simply holding it all together to present herself the way society wants. If only she could be more like her cat. This is the fifth novel by presenter Dawn O’Porter.
Main character Mia, a character who performs the old trick of being awful, but marginally less awful than everyone in the book. Her husband is uninterested, his ex-wife obnoxiously present, her boss a cartoon witch.
Writing style This is a book about a woman who essentially devolves (or evolves, as it would like us all to think) into an animal, which makes it a slightly less high-minded version of Paula Cocozza’s novel How to Be Human. It rips along at a decent clip and, even though O’Porter now lives in Los Angeles, does a very good job of depicting the empty aspirational scuzz of the London creative scene. In fact, this is where it thrives. The chapters about Mia’s awful workplace are much more compelling than the ones where she stops washing and pretends to be a cat.
Previous works Four novels (Paper Aeroplanes, Goose, The Cows and So Lucky), plus a diary of lockdown (Life in Pieces) and a nonfiction work (This Old Thing: Fall in Love With Vintage Clothes).
Cover quote “A reminder to live your life your way. Cat or no cat” – Fearne Cotton.
Most recent Amazon review “This book had me laughing, being angry and sad too.”
Who should buy this book? If I had to guess, I’d say every single woman who owns a cat will have this pressed into her hands over the next few months.
This article was amended on 29 November 2022. The former spy who belongs to the Thursday Murder Club is Elizabeth, not Joyce as an earlier version said. This has been corrected.