Saturday, April 29, 2006

Raisin Hell

By no stretch of the imagination a good book, but an unusually interesting one for followers of contemporary British politics.

You know, of course, Bonkin' Boris , elected representative of the commutariat of Henley-on-Thames in the Commons, former editor of The Spectator and, in between episodes of tabloid disgrace, a shadow Tory minister. One of London's great erudite and erring eccentrics. Who would not wish secretly, as I do, to be Boris, with his wit, his bicycle and his series of improbably high profile amorous folies a deux

Steeped (like its author) in the comic tradition of the early Evelyn Waugh, without for a moment reaching those heights, this book does start rather well - indeed, schooled by the British literary establishment in the supreme importance of a memorable opening sentence, Boris has slaved over his to get it just about right.

As it is improbable in the extreme that you, dear reader, will ever buy or wade through this book, it is no great sin to reproduce it here:

On what he had every reason to believe would be the last day of his undistinguished political career Roger Barlow awoke in a state of sexual excitement and with a gun to his head, the one fading as he became aware of the other

Unfortunately, the story also rather detumesces from that point on, in the effort to keep an impossibly complex plot involving a bumbling Jihadist conspiracy to blow up Uncle POTUS in the crumbly if hallowed precincts of Westminster Hall. No subplot, byway or implausible background story is left unexplored, nor is any opportunity to show off arcane knowledge left unexploited.

Johnson's primary political question for the persevering reader (growing every more dispirited as the light touch is replaced by weary slog) is whether one should love or hate America, in the light of Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Paul Newman salad dressing, and a thousand other indignities. After a few enjoyable set pieces and a great deal of self-indulgence, the question is left unanswered, apart from one's prior knowledge of The Spectator and its general attitude of amused contempt and affection for the Yank.


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