The great anti-hero of our time: Diary of a Somebody, by Brian Bilston, reviewed

15 June 2019

9:00 AM

15 June 2019

9:00 AM

Brian Bilston’s life is summed up perfectly by the incident with his neighbour’s dog. The annoying Mrs McNulty comes round to claim that the animal has spontaneously combusted. Brian has his doubts, not least because Mrs McNulty has never owned a dog. But he nevertheless uses the incident as inspiration for a poem, ‘The Day My Dog Spontaneously Combusted’:

there he was,
chasing sticks,
doing tricks,
and all that stuff
next minute, woof

Brian tweets the poem to his 23 followers. This is part of his ‘renewed commitment to social media’, but serves only to reduce his follower count to 17. What’s worse, ‘to add insult to invisibility’ he also gets angry messages from the RSPCA.

Bilston is the greatest English anti-hero of our time. His poems have delighted people on Twitter for several years (true follower count as I write this: 63,800), and now he’s treated us to this brilliant novel. He has a black belt in procrastination. Instead of getting on with writing he spends hours rearranging all his books by ISBN. To celebrate finishing, he decides to treat himself to a couple of stories from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, ‘but, having spent 15 minutes attempting to locate it, I gave up and went back to bed’.

It’s no surprise that Bilston’s wife has left him, taking their teenage son Dylan with her. Stuart, her new man, tells Brian that it takes 17 muscles to smile but 43 to frown (‘I began to do some calculations in my head to work out how many it would take to hit him’).

Things are little better at Poetry Club, where Brian’s hated rival Toby Salt is thriving — regular appearances on Radio 4, publishing deal for his pretentious collection This Bridge No Hands Shall Cleave. But Brian continues to munch on his beloved custard creams, penning such gems as ‘Advice for Removing Keyboard Tearstains’:

If you happen to notice
your keyboard is dirty
use a water spray can
and give it a SQWERTY

This book has everything you want from a comic novel. There is the humour of everyday events (the ceaseless failure of the Man At Number 29 to put out the right bin on bin day), a wonderful cast of minor characters (Kaylee and her malapropisms — ‘stop casting all these nasturtiums’), a subplot concerning Toby Salt’s sudden disappearance, and another one about Liz at Poetry Club that will have you screaming ‘just kiss her’.

The book’s copyright page mentions someone called Paul Millicheap. But I refuse to acknowledge this. Brian Bilston is real. And I love him.

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