A(nother) Review: Diary of a Somebody by Brian Bilston

The chances are – if you’re on Twitter – then you’ve stumbled across Brian Bilston and his poetry on at least one occasion. Often dubbed the unofficial poet laureate of twitter, it is perhaps unsurprising that he found himself offered a book deal.

Diary of a Somebodystarts out promisingly enough with diary entries each headed with a short poem. It’s not a gimmick though, the fictional Brian Bilston is an aspiring poet and is planning to spend his year writing a poem a day.

The diary entries are split into two – poetry and prose. However, like all good resolutions, Brian starts to falter, finding lack of inspiration or lack of time.

Brian’s year goes as well as his poetry, his ex-wife is moving on, he’s fast losing interest in his job and his rival’s poetry career is going from strength to strength. Even his twitter followers have stalled at a measly forty.

Things start to look up a little when a new woman – Liz – joins their poetry group and Brian starts to develop a crush, which appears to be reciprocated.

I was excited for this book when I first got it – I’d seen some of Bilston’s poetry online and I’d enjoyed it, plus any differentiation from the normal structure of a novel is like catnip to me. 

Did it work? I’m going to go with yes, but I struggled a bit. The story was good, but the pacing was slow – and the poems slowed it down somewhat. 

The blurb of the book teased a potential murder, but when that doesn’t happen until somewhere near the end of August in a diary that starts in January, it does feel like you’re spending a lot of time waiting for the plot to start.

Perhaps that’s an issue with the marketing of the book, perhaps the ‘murder’ shouldn’t be mentioned at all, but I think without that mention, I’d be wondering where it was going. 

The plot sort of meanders along, a bit like in EastEnders when something dramatic happens in June, and then they have the characters tread water until they can do a big Christmas Day reveal.

Looking back on it now, as I write this review, I realise that’s my biggest problem with it, the plot being stretched out over the course of a year. It could have all taken place in the space of a few months and rattled along nicely. 

The poems however were great, they fed the theme of each chapter, and although they didn’t necessarily advance the plot, they were quite amusing at times.

In summary, a nice idea for the structure, but it doesn’t quite work for me. It’s funny, though, and dark in places if you like that sort of thing (I do) – and the diary entry structure does at least make it a nice to book to dip in and out of. 

You can quickly read an entry or two while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, so would be perfect for people who don’t have a lot of time to read.

Diary of a Somebody will be published by Picador in June