The Sound of No Hands Clapping
The opening chapter of British journalist Toby Young’s newest book, The Sound of No Hands Clapping, sets you up for what promises to be a humorous and engaging read. It is the much anticipated sequel to his debut, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, in which he accepts a job at publishing giant Condé Nast but, because of a series of ridiculous antics and foul-ups, is successively demoted until blacklisted from putting pen to paper in New York. The Sound of No Hands Clapping picks up years later in London when Young receives a surreal phone call from an unnamed but legendary Hollywood producer Young refers to as "Mr. __" or "Mr. Hollywood," who has acquired the rights to the biography of a powerful but unscrupulous 1970s record producer and wants it adapted into a screenplay. Several of his writers were working on the movie, but none was able to characterize the music producer sympathetically. But after reading Lose Friends, "Mr. Hollywood" believes Young can make this music producer palatable. "I mean," Mr. Hollywood explains, "if you were able to make yourself likable, given all the horrible shit you pulled, you should be able to make this guy look like fucking Gandhi."
Clapping boasts to chronicle Young’s attempts at screenwriting fame in Los Angeles but instead is a long-winded procrastination. It is a muddle of vignettes, conversations, and relationship philosophies that distract you from realizing--until the end--that nothing happens. Young doesn’t even move to Los Angeles until the final third of the book; in the meantime, he tells a few stories (the most interesting of which were already told in Lose Friends), makes a few feeble attempts at writing a screenplay, and questions his role in his new marriage--and, once again, retreats to London and embraces his family life--an ending that, even he admits, reads like a contrived, feel-good wrap-up. The only aspect of the book that keeps you engaged is trying to figure out the identity of "Mr. Hollywood." The tale of his Hollywood failures lack the fervor and veracity of his New York expulsion--in New York Young failed spectacularly, but in L.A. he simply failed.