Published in paperback June 2011, Harper Collins. List price £6.99
Appropriate for ages 7-11.
From the cover;
‘Meet Joe Spud, the richest 12-year-old in the world. Joe has everything he could ever want: his own Formula One racing car, a thousand pairs of trainers, even an orang-utan for a butler!
Yes, Joe has everything he wants, but there’s just one thing he really needs: a friend…’
David Walliams’ first offering, The Boy in the Dress was a mildly subversive but otherwise unremarkable book. Lucky to have both fame and illustrator Quentin Blake on his side, the book was nevertheless a bestseller. His follow-up, Mr Stink, though released under significantly less fan-fare, was awarded The People’s Book Award in 2010. So we come to the third novel from the Walliams stable: Billionaire Boy.
Let me get this out of the way before I start. The premise – that money doesn’t buy happiness – is the kind of thing that poor people say when they want to console themselves and rich people say when they’re feeling guilty. And they’re right. Directly, money doesn’t buy happiness. But it really really helps. For every character in lit that finds happiness after losing everything, there are 100 people in actual real life whose lives are made that much better with the provision of a bit of spare cash. The lonely rich kid trope is a common one in television, film and literature, and Billionaire Boy does nothing to challenge the model.
Billionaire Boy is usually funny, occasionally asinine. When he’s not listing the worst names to have if you want to be a teacher (Dan Druff, Barbera Blacksheep, Marcus Absent…) or lampooning ever-so-slightly unhinged corner-shopkeepers everywhere, Walliams is making merry with a his protagonist Joe and his father, romping through the meagre plot with rhythm and tenacity. The plot concerns (as if we haven’t already guessed) a very rich little boy, heir to a loo roll fortune, who is bullied at his Very Posh Private School. Not unsurprisingly, he just wants to go to the local Comprehensive and be just like everyone else.
Tony Ross provides black and white illustrations reminiscent of Quentin Blake (who illustrated Walliams’ previous novels) which, along with Walliams silly lists and puerile lunch menus add comfortable breaks to the text. There’s an overabundance of fat jokes which go unchallenged, but ultimately the message is a good one: happiness comes from people, not belongings. It takes our hero a while to work this out, and the route by which he does so is recognisable and appropriate to the school setting. Joe’s relationship with his father grows in a way that is touching; deserving of more attention than it receives but familiar and pleasant to behold.
Walliams has been called by some ‘the new Roald Dahl’. I can only assume that this means ‘absurdist misogynist’, for if Billionaire Boy is anything to go by David Walliams hates women. His female characters are air-headed and duplicitous and judged only by their cooking and their looks. Consider:
- Sapphire, Page 3 Stunna (sic). Fond of high heels and false tanning. Has a GCSE in make up. Wants eight Dior handbags (‘One for each day of the week’) Becomes engaged to Mr Spud only after he has produced an enormous diamond ring. Leaves him when he loses his money. Ends up ‘engaged to a Premiership football team’.
- Lauren, potential love interest to Joe who is ‘overwhelmed by her beauty’. Child actress; hints of eating disorder; befriends Joe after being paid to by his father. Once discovered, runs away never to be seen again.
- Mrs Trafe, dinnerlady. Borrows £5000 for hip replacement surgery, spends it on various cosmetic procedures. Cannot cook.
- Bob’s mum. Isn’t given a name, any features or a personality. Is married by Joe’s father for her shepherd’s pie making skills.
- Miss Spite, teacher. Loses her job on the say so of a rich white man.
A womans’ value, it seems, is in her face and her kitchen and her interest is in your money.
Despite its disagreeable politics Billionaire Boy is perfectly pitched for a primary school sense of humour and it’s easily digestible prose will certainly entertain. 5 out of 10.
Harper Collins have extended their deal with Walliams, buying world rights to three additional books. The first of these, Gangsta Granny, is due to be released in November 2011.