Review: Straight White Male by John Niven

It is easier to be an arse hole than deal with shit. I often think I would be a lot further along in life if I just stopped caring about what other people thought, or what was right. Sure, I would have a limited amount of friends and all the charm of Gregory House, but I would be happy right? Well, I would have money, which would buy books. I could hide away like J. D. Salinger surrounded by books and puppies (I do not like cats) mumbling to myself in mirrors for conversation. Yeah, I would be much happier.

swm“Kennedy Marr is a novelist from the old school. Irish, acerbic, and a borderline alcoholic and sex-addict, his mantra is drink hard, write hard and try to screw every woman you meet. He’s writing film scripts in LA, fucking, drinking and insulting his way through Californian society, but also suffering from writers block and unpaid taxes. Then a solution presents itself – Marr is to be the unlikely recipient of the W. F. Bingham Prize for Outstanding Contribution to Modern Literature, an award worth half a million pounds. But it does not come without a price: he must spend a year teaching at the English university where his ex-wife and estranged daughter now reside.”Synopsis from GoodReads

I requested this book for two different reasons, both of them ridiculous:

  1. Caitlin Moran recommended it.
  2. There is a T-Rex on the cover.

What more convincing could I have possibly needed?

Kennedy Marr, our egotistical protagonist, is a wanker of mega proportions – both literally and figuratively. He cares little for anyone but himself and only on rare occasions was I sympathising with him (which is what made him so marvellous.) I could have got sidetracked, annoyed by another white man’s tale, but Straight White Male does not pretend to be something it is not. By taking the male ‘put it about’ stereotype and shining a revealing light on it, you learn that perhaps being the world’s best shagger is not quite all it is made out to be. Grass is always greener on the other side and all that. Kennedy makes no apologies for his actions and I didn’t want him too, they would be empty. Niven has created wonderfully realistic personalities; there were no moral polar opposites there to teach Marr lessons, these were all real people, real enough that I expected to meet them at some point in my life.

Straight White Male is beautifully written, giving off hints and smells of Marr’s idols Hemingway, Joyce or Fitzgerald – introspective and meta. When people argue about what is good literature I do not always understand, but then you read something like this and it makes sense, this is some of the best literary fiction I have read all year. It gives you a character you loath and spins him through a life lesson –  consistently depicting him as a total butt hole – while teaching the reader at the same time.

This book made me want to write, to be creative and to read. It made me worry that I do not know enough about literature and it made me realise while I want everyone to read, there are books I would rather people did not enjoy as much as others (such as Twilight.) Because, while Straight White Male doesn’t send out the best message, it is self analysing, critical and disparaging of its protagonist. Sure, Kennedy Marr seems like he has it all, but he lives on the surface unable to deal with an ocean of emotions – ‘if I don’t visit, she won’t die’Straight White Male by John Niven – he lacks emotional stability, or someone to care when he dies.

Needless to say I have gone out and bought another of Niven’s books, his style is beautifully sharp and his plots engrossing.

Straight White Male by John Niven was published on the 15th August by Random House UK, Cornerstone; this copy was kindly given to me via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review , thank you! 

3 thoughts on “Review: Straight White Male by John Niven

  1. I don’t think I’m likely to read this since The Count of Monte Cristo recently taught me that even literary merit will not make me like a book with an unlikeable protagonist. That said, I think you’re reasons for reading this book are awesome! I love Caitlin Moran and T Rex’s are just awesome 🙂


    1. But the story is so good, honestly you’ll see past Kennedy Marr – maybe give it a few months from now though, when Cristo isn’t in your mind. I saw the film was on TV today actually, and I thought of your blog on the book so I decided not to watch it. Haha.


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