Wednesday, 8 September 2010

From a bridge to a journey

I've coming to the end of David Remnick's The Bridge, which sets the rise of Barack Obama in the context of the long struggle for civil rights. If you've read Dreams From My Father, Game Change and David Plouffe's book about the 2008 campaign, and think you know everything there is to know about Obama's background and his historic run for the presidency, then think again. Remnick is particularly good on Obama's political formation in Chicago and his relationship with an older generation of African-American politicians.

After Remnick, I had a whole stack of books lined up and waiting to be read. Before we went on holiday I was halfway through re-reading The Making of the English Working Class, then there was that book about Tom Paine I started in St. Ives, not to mention the thick tome that is Wolf Hall, which I took to Portugal but never quite got round to reading, and which still sits on the floor by the bed unopened, like a reproach.

But I'm afraid they'll all have to wait. For, like half the nation, I have succumbed to the siren call of Mr. Tony and bought my half-price copy of A Journey from Waterstones. Yesterday I took the book on a long train journey and was immediately hooked. Don't believe those who say Blair has a dull literary style. He may not be Doris Kearns Goodwin or Robert Caro, or even Barack Obama, but it's an absolutely riveting read. If, like me, you are fortunate to have a partner who is as obsessed with politics as you are, and if you have the kind of relationship where you are always reading out bits of your books to each other, then you'll find Blair's book impossible. You'll be wanting to read all of it to each other. In fact, I almost bought H. her own copy so that we could read it at the same time: I could hardly wait for her to share the experience with me.

Maybe it's just me. After all, I did re-join the Labour Party the day after Blair was elected leader, and my political trajectory - from the Bennite Left to a kind of progressive centrism - has tended to follow his. Leafing through the photos in the book, it struck me that even our hairstyles have moved in a similar direction, from unkempt long locks in Seventies, via the blow-dried Eighties, to the receding hairline with touches of grey today. I'm sure those who find Blair politically and personally anathema wouldn't enjoy the book half as much as I'm doing.

Mind you, there are some odd passages in the book. Most reviews have mentioned the explicit sexual passages, but there are other parts where the author seems unaware of his own double entendres. Surely any sub-editor who had a passing acquaintance with Freud should have taken a red pencil to this paragraph about Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson, with its only half-acknowledged phallic imagery:
During the course of the conversation [with Campbell] I discovered something I hadn't been a hundred per cent of previously: he had clanking great balls. This was someone you would have to pull back, not push forward [...] He and Peter Mandelson might fight (and my goodness they did, occasionally literally), but in tandem they would be as formidable a political force as could be imagined. Peter would slip into the castle through a secret passageway and, by nimble footwork and sharp and incisive thrusts of the rapier, cleave his way through to the throne room. Meanwhile, Alastair would be a very large oak battering ram destroying the castle gates, and neither boiling pitch nor reinforced doors would keep him out.
I'm sure I'll have more to say as I read on. For now: back to the book...

1 comment:

bob said...

Blimey - off for a cold shower.

Wolf Hall, by the way, is very worth persevering with.

The other two great books I've read in 2010: The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, and A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry.