by Dominic Holland

Dominic Holland's first attempt at swapping the gladiatorial arena of the stand-up circuit for the tranquil dignity of a novelist's career is a breezy 21st century update of the Cinderella story.

For his protagonist, unassuming, middle-class west Londoner Holland has chosen an unassuming, middle-class west Londoner. And what's more, she's an aspiring writer, too.

Milly, a frustrated hotel receptionist is desperate to get her debut script into the hands of Hollywood's deal-makers. Yet unbeknown to her, a Tinseltown studio has seen her work and wants to buy it even though they have no idea who the author is.

Enter Prince Charming, aka studio exec Mitch Carmichael. On a frantic hunt for the mysterious screenwriter, he checks into Milly's hotel, so setting the scene for the romantic comedy.

Ironically, perhaps, for a book revolving around Hollywood, Only In America itself feels more like an adapted screenplay than a novel.

Conveniently - cynically? - Holland's characters those same broad stereotypes that were so effective at attracting the Hollywood dollar to blockbusters like Four Weddings And A Funeral and Notting Hill, which placed bankable American stars in what would otherwise be modest British comedies.

Here we have the socially awkward, easily-flustered Brit who becomes romantically entwined with the confident, successful Yank. The only difference is that here the blustering Brit is female, so no job here for Hugh Grant.

The other aspect that suggests this was written with one eye on the screen, is the element of farce - Mitch often misses the vital clues that the girl he's fallen for is also the sought-after author by fractions of a second.

Yet farce is primarily a visual form - think of all those slamming doors and lost trousers - that doesn't translate too well to the page, unless you're as relentless at ratcheting up the tension as Tom Sharpe - and this is not that sort of book.

Instead, this is a sweet and light serving of fairytale and romance - warm and witty, if not side-splittingly funny. It's the sort of effortless read you can polish off in one sitting - and enjoyable enough that you'll want to.

It's sheer escapist fantasy - no prizes for guessing that the book doesn't end with Milly's script stuck in development hell, endlessly rewritten by unimaginative Hollywood hacks ­ and it won't be troubling the Booker judges. Yet it could provide an entertaining few hours as a holiday read.

Only time will tell if it's Holland's story ends up with the same fairytale ending as Millie's. In the meantime, let's hope he doesn't give up the night job as one of the best ­ and most under-rated ­ observational stand-ups around.

Steve Bennett
May 2, 2002

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Published: 22 Sep 2006

Past Shows

Edinburgh Fringe 2006

Grow Up



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