Backstories by Simon Van der Velde Review

Intimate stories about people you THINK you know


I love to read, and I read lots of different genres although I do have my favourites. But every once in a while, a book comes along that is unique and intriguing and really gets you involved in the story being told. Imagine reading a book and not being told the answer to the questions that it poses, having to play detective and work out, using clues within the story, who is being spoken about. To me, that sounds really fascinating so when I was asked to have a read of Backstories by Simon Van der Velde I was immediately interested enough to say yes.

Backstories by Simon Van der Velde is a collection of fourteen short intimate stories about people you think you know. This collection of stories is a unique concept making it more than just a book, can you find the famous person hidden in every story? If you have watched shows such as The Masked Singer, think of this as the much better literary version.

“Dreamers, singers, heroes and killers, they can dazzle with their beauty, their talent or their unmitigated evil, yet inside themselves they are as frail and desperate as the rest of us. But can you see them? Can you unravel the truth?

These are people you know, but not as you know them.

Peel back the mask and see.”

When I was asked to read this book, my interest was immediately piqued and I was very intrigued how the book would work, especially as the stories about people from the authors era of growing up, his childhood heroes and villains. Not knowing what era that was or how old he is I did wonder if I would have any idea of who he was talking about (the settings are mostly 60’s and 70’s UK and USA). After reading one of the stories within the book and having and inkling in my mind on who the story was about, with the help of my friend Google I went on a mission to confirm my suspicions and I believe I found the answer to my first story (I won’t tell you what story or the person I believe it features as that would ruin the whole premise of the book).

The fourteen stories feature very different personalities including, actors, singers, sports stars and even killers and have all been written very well with snippets of clues within them. You as the reader then have to play detective to try and work out who the famous person featured in the story would be (whether that’s from your own knowledge, asking your friends and family to help or even using Google).

Although the person buried in the story is from a different decade or era it doesn’t really matter if you know who they are or even heard of them before, half the fun is in trying to work it out, Google can be your friend here if you ask it the right questions (other search engines are available) or from getting your friends and family involved and asking them questions. I have managed to (fingers crossed) get a few correct and I am still working on some others, and that’s the fun of the book – it isn’t just a case of reading it, digesting it and putting it down to forget about it but one to think about and work out the subtle clues. The book isn’t finished when you read the last page (unless you are not moving on to the next story until you have worked out the answer to the previous story first).

Overall, Simon Van der Velde’s Backstories is an excellent book. You do not need to read it from cover to cover if you don’t want to, you can dip into any chapter and start your detective challenge. Whilst the individual stories may be quick reads, trying to find the hidden personality can take a bit more time to work out. It is an excellent way to really get you involved and engaged in the book.

Because of the way that this book works it would also be perfect for book clubs or reader discussion groups, seeing what answers people could come up with and who could find the most people, and decide even if the people found are the right people and why.

I have really enjoyed this book. The concept is excellent, as is the writing and the general storytelling. Even with the stories that I thought I knew the answers to from just reading the story I still spent more time Googling just to confirm that my answer stood up to the given clues.

I have also listened to an audio version of one of the featured stories and whilst I am not a fan of audio books as I prefer to read for myself, the audio book works extremely well for this type of book, especially if you were playing it to a group as a game for them to go out and try to work out the answer.

The author has also dedicated this book to the victims of violent crime, the struggle against discrimination in all its forms and making the world a better place for our children. That is why 30% of all profits will be shared between Stop Hate UK, The North East Autism Society and Friends of the Earth.

An excellent and ingenious book that is not only a good read but one that kicks your mind into an analytic gear trying to decipher the clues so that you can ask the right questions from friends, family of the all-powerful Google to hopefully come up with a feasible answer (Google can’t help if you don’t ask the right questions).

This is a book that will last longer than just the reading of its 100 pages, and one that will bring a lot of fun, entertainment and discussions, especially when you reach that ‘Eureka’ moment!

Rating: 5/5

RRP: £7.99 (Paperback) / £1.99 (Kindle) / £5.59 (Audiobook)

For more information, visit Available to buy from Amazon here.

DISCLOSURE: I was provided with a free copy of this book for the purposes of writing a honest and impartial review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. This review uses an affiliate link which I may receive a small commission from if you purchase through the link.