Kill Your Friends by John Niven


London, 1997: it is the fag end of Britpop, and record company A&R man Steven Stelfox is looking for a hit record. No great surprise there since so is everyone else he knows. But Stelfox is also a murderer (insert ‘killer tunes’ joke here), keen to make his way up the greasy corporate pole by any means necessary. This is fertile ground, of course: Dennis Price’s Louis Mazzini did something similar in Kind Hearts And Coronets and, such was the film’s wit, it got away with being a comedy in buttoned-up 1949. Stelfox has no class, though: he is not Mazzini. He is instead a sort of cut-price Patrick Bateman from American Psycho: his attitudes to women, to ethnic minorities, to his colleagues, to anyone who lives outside London – to anyone, indeed, who isn’t him – are appalling. And, admittedly, often extremely funny. In the short gaps between his gargantuan drug binges and abusive sexual encounters, he has a nice line in weary asides (e.g. ‘With the indie kids you have to remember this: they really think that what they do matters in some way’). In the first person narrative, several set-pieces – the work trip to the Glastonbury festival, the drugged-out beano in Miami – are mini-masterpieces of comic observation. Niven has a great ear for dialogue – particularly the fractured, elliptical after-hours kind of conversation that seems to characterise life in the record industry. (Niven, we presume, should know. He apparently spent ten years working among these people). Perhaps the most amusing vignette is the private unveiling of much-hyped rap star Rage’s unlistenable-to, utterly unreleasable debut album. During the 64-minute playback, the label execs slowly realise that something is very, very wrong. ‘It collectively dawns on us that we’re listening to the sonic representation of someone’s mind coming apart.’ It is also a career-ending moment for Schneider, the executive in charge of this disaster. Stelfox has a different perspective: ‘On a positive note I’m thinking that I must get the name of Rage’s dealer, because the chang the cunt is getting his hands on is clearly fucking phenomenal.’ So, not a book which is particularly good for the soul. But at times it will make you laugh out loud.


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