by John Dicker
by Toby Young
$24.95 304 pp.
Da Capo Press
Review by John Dicker
There are few reasons to pay attention to Toby Young’s second memoir, The Sound of No Hands Clapping. Young is 42 years old and, yes, you read it right, this is his second memoir. Unless you’re a prodigy along the lines of Mark Twain or David Sedaris, is there any reason to have two memoirs at this age? Being ambitious and British hardly seems compelling enough for a $25 book.
Other reasons to dislike Toby Young: He’s as vapid and fame-starved as any Real World cast member. The critical eye he capably turns on pop culture, love and marriage somehow dissipates when it comes to his overarching desire for celebrity.
In How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (2002), Young fell from a seemingly enviable journalistic perch at Vanity Fair, where he upset movie stars and his editor Graydon Carter. For this, he’s married and back in London, his gaze fixed on the Hollywood film business. Contracted by what he assures is a "Very Powerful Hollywood Producer," Young busies himself adapting a book about a disco-era legend into a screenplay. It never really takes off.
At the same time, Young has become a father and an actor, while holding down a day job as theater critic, which he admits he’s totally unqualified for. None of this is terrifically exciting, but despite being a complete ass, Young is a genuinely funny and charming writer.
Case in point: His account of his short-lived cub reporter gig at The Times (of London). Rather than working his way up a promising career ladder, he hacks into the company’s computer network and spends his time messing with his supervisor. To Young, such mischief is as inevitable as exhaling. As a writer, he has great instinct. In his romps are many worthy insights into the life of a successful writer. Also buried in these pages are some great exchanges between Young and a Los Angeles "industry" friend about screenwriting and the creative process.
The Sound is hardly a book without problems. Young’s self-deprecation is shticky, in part because his knack for making a royal twat of himself grows suspect due to its frequency. But the funny often manages to cancel out the skepticism.
Maybe it’s because Americans put British folk on a pedestal of erudition, but it’s a welcome relief to find a Brit who’s smart and a complete imbecile. In his first memoir, an exasperated Graydon Carter tells Young he’s "like a British person born in New Jersey." It’s meant as a slight, of course, though it’s not totally untrue. But thank goodness for that because it’s what makes his memoirs work. If only more British people were born in the Garden State.