Me Cheeta – James Lever

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 Long listed for the Booker Prize 2009

This book caused quite a stir as soon as it was discovered on the Booker long list. It is a spoof memoir of the chimp who starred alongside Tarzan during the golden age of Hollywood. It has been described as:

…the finest Hollywood memoir ever written. Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday

but it’s inclusion on the Booker long list has divided people. I was immediately intrigued, although was unsure which side of the fence I’d fall with this book.

Unfortunately it quickly became obvious that this book wasn’t for me. I am not a fan of actor memoirs, do not pay much attention to what goes on in Hollywood and do not share the same sense of humour as the author. This book is well written, and it is a very clever idea, but without being able to appreciate the satire, this book was lost on me.

The coarse language will also offend a few people, but I can see why it was present. The chimp was anthropomorphised more than I would have liked. I think I would have found a book written from the point of view of real chimp (as opposed to one which sounded like a Hollywood actor) far more interesting.

I’d never liked the goddamm English anyway, with their razor-wire elocution, their total lack of humour and their godawful pedantic spelling.

I lost interest in this book quite quickly and began to skim read after about 50 pages. The book did draw me back in occasionally, but not enough to persuade me to read it all.

If you are a fan of Hollywood memoirs then you will probably enjoy this book, but it wasn’t for me.


What did you think about this book’s inclusion on the Booker long list?

Are you tempted to read it?

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  1. Karen says:

    I hadn’t heard a thing about this book until it was named on the Booker longlist. Even though I haven’t actually looked at a copy I think your review has made me realise this won’t be the book for me!

    1. Jackie says:

      I hadn’t heard of it before the Booker list either, but a lot of people had – I guess it just isn’t the book I pay any attention to normally.

  2. CarolineC says:

    No, this book wasn’t for me either, Jackie. I had a feeling that I wouldn’t like it but needed to look for myself to make sure. The Hollywood scene I quickly realised that I wasn’t going to connect with and the humour would be lost on me to. I have this incline that it will will appeal to blokes though. Looking forward to your other Booker reviews.

    1. Jackie says:

      I agree that this book may appeal to men more, but I think anyone with an interest in the Hollywood scene would find it interesting.

  3. Sandy says:

    I like memoirs if they are written well, and are about somebody I’m interested in. Not sure if I want to read about a chimp! I wish I had your discipline to say “when”, as I am in the middle of something that just isn’t working for me, but at this point only have about 50 pages to go. I feel like I have wasted a week of my life…

    1. Jackie says:

      Sorry to hear you have wasted a reading week. I hope you find something good to read next and find the ability to stop reading something that isn’t working for you.

  4. Meghan says:

    I don’t think this would be for me either. I don’t really like celebrity memoirs and much less a fake one about a chimpanzee. Its inclusion on the Booker long list is very odd. In all I think I’d prefer to read the others first!

    1. Jackie says:

      There are a lot of great books on the Booker list this year – if you feel this isn’t for you then I’d give some of the others a try first – you may well find a gem.

  5. Claire says:

    As you read last week, I read it and didn’t love it nor loathe it. I did find it very dry in parts but thought it was a very clever concept. I don’t see it being shortlisted.
    I agree about the anthromorphisation of Cheeta; I also think that it didn’t hold up particularly well with things that he had full grasp of and then others, like the telephone, that he didn’t.

    1. Jackie says:

      I agree – it was weird how he was so able to understand some things, but not others. A great idea, but it just didn’t work for me.

  6. Simon S says:

    I am still looking forward to this as thank to my legendary Gran I was brought up on all the huge hollywood movies and so am hoping I get a sense of that era from it. I think its great this has been included on the long list as its something different. There was all that controversy about Child 44 last year, they need it to generate publicity and interest.

    1. Jackie says:

      I think you’ll probably love this. I don’t watch many films and was only just aware of some of the actors mentioned. Anyone who loves cinema will gain a lot more from this than me.

  7. Beth F says:

    That’s too bad. The concept sounds terrific.

    1. Jackie says:

      It is a great idea – I could never come up with something like that!

  8. Jenny says:

    Not at all tempted – mercy, how do they choose these books?

    1. Jackie says:

      This is very well written and some people will love it – I can see why it made the long list, but don’t think it will make it through to the next stage.

  9. raidergirl3 says:

    Actually, after reading your review, I am a little more intrigued. I remember reading some of those old star Hollywood memoirs, and I found that line you quoted kinda funny.
    How many pages is it? I sometimes can appreciate a concept book, even if isn’t as strong all the way through, as long as don’t need to read it for two weeks.

    (A good review, like you write, can let the reader know what you didn’t like and why, and then they can make their own decision. I may come back after reading it and say you were completely right, it was horrid, but I’ll go in knowing what to expect.)

    1. Jackie says:

      I’m pleased to hear that you are intrigued by it – I don’t want to put anyone off it – I’m just not a fan of Hollywood memoirs, so the satire is all lost on me. I look forward to hearing your thoughts if you do decide to get it.

  10. Sue K says:

    Interesting that you starting skimming around page 50–I just started reading this book and am on page 50. I’m not loving it, but I try to give as many of the Booker longlist books a chance. There are so many books that I never would have read if not for that list….this one is probably not going to be one of those discoveries, however. You and I really do seem to have very similar taste in books!

    1. Jackie says:

      If you decide to continue do come back and tell me if you enjoyed it more towards the end. There are some great books on the list, so I’m sure you’ll find a few you’ll love.

  11. Annabel says:

    I think this was a brave choice for them to pick – and it is in my to read soon pile – our book group has picked it for October.

    I’m really looking forward to reading it, but then I grew up watching and loving all the black and white Hollywood movies, and I also enjoy reading film star biographies, so it could be the book for me!

    1. Jackie says:

      It does sound as though you’ll enjoy it. I watched very few films as a child and I think I’m probably a bit young to get some of the references too. I hope you and your group enjoy it.

  12. Steph says:

    Wow, this does not seem to be the kind of book one would expect to make it on the Booker long list… I have to say, the concept does not appeal to me at all, and while I enjoy books that are humourous and light-hearted, this just seems gimmicky to me. I’m going to thank you for taking the bullet on this one!

    1. Jackie says:

      It is certainly a very different choice. I have great respect for the Booker judges this year – they seem to have done an excellent job.

  13. mee says:

    I’ve been skeptical about the book. How good can a chimp story be? Your review confirms my suspicion.

    1. Jackie says:

      I can imagine a chimp story being really good – I was amazed how good the recent book about cows I read was. Hollywood chimps just aren’t my thing though.

  14. Trish says:

    Yikes–it’s never good when you have to resort to skimming that soon into the book. I must not have recognized the name in the initial list because this doesn’t sound familiar to me at all. One star? I think I’ll skip.

    1. Jackie says:

      I think 50 pages is quite a good time to decide whether you are going to continue reading a book or not – I often make a choice at about this time, so don’t draw too much judgement about the 50 page level.

      1. Trish says:

        LOL–I think we misunderstood each other. 50 pages is usually the breaking point for me as well. I thought you meant you skimmed the rest of the book after the 50 pages. At that point I think I would have put it down–although I just finished a groaner that I suffered through for book club.

        1. Jackie says:

          You were right – I did skim read to the end. It wasn’t so terrible that I couldn’t read it, but it just didn’t hold my attention. I would normally have just put it down, but I do want to know as much about the Booker list as possible this year.

  15. claire says:

    This didn’t appeal to me at all, but because of the Booker I thought I’d check to see if it was worth reading. I read a few pages (on amazon, I think, not sure), and then decided for sure that it wasn’t for me after all.

    1. Jackie says:

      If I wasn’t trying to read the Bookers I think I would have come to the same conclusion as you – it is probably a good idea for other people to have a quick look at the Amazon preview before deciding if it is the book for them.

  16. Violet says:

    I would be tempted to read it because it’s a memoir and it’s a spoof memoir. I love the concept of it. But maybe I won’t spend my hard earned money on it.

  17. Violet says:

    Just saw a review of the same book

    Funny how we all like different books :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Yes – I can see why some people will love this book. I can’t see how there will be any middle grund – you will either love this book or hate it. I’ll be interested to see what you think.

  18. Mon says:

    Not my thing either. Thanks for the honesty.

    1. Jackie says:

      No problem – It is sometimes good to cross a book off the TBR list!

  19. Jenners says:

    I read about this book being on the Booker list (in Entertainment Weekly, perhaps?) and it does seem to dilute the spirit of the awards.

    1. Jackie says:

      I’m not sure it dilutes the spirit of the list – just adds a bit of variety. I feel I’m missing out by not reading EW.

  20. Samantha says:

    Like you said – it is a clever concept and I thought the writer did highlight some of the appalling practices when using animals in film and elsewhere very well. But also like you, it didn’t overly hold my attention and I skimmed a few chapters but did make it through to the end – eventually ;-)

    1. Jackie says:

      Sounds like we had very similar reading experiences of this one.


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