August 2010


This is my favourite holiday reads this August picked up quite by accident when I was trying to spend a book token in waterstones – taking advantage of their three for two offer! You remember the feeling – you land your hands on two books you think you want and cannot find a third! I wonder how shopping on line could replicate that wonderful feeling of falling over something by accident?

Here is how the plot goes……

Whilst pursuing a volume of EM Forster through the warren of bookshelves that prop up her house, Susan Hill is struck by the number of books that she owns but has never read, or has read but forgotten that she owned; and the many old favourites ripe for another outing. So begins a year of re-acquaintance with her own library through an embargo on new purchases and heavily curtailed internet use.   

She was raised in Scarborough but took A-levels in Coventry, and published her first novel aged 18 while studying at King’s College, London. Besides half a century of prolific writing she has set up as a publisher. “Namedropping is a tiresome, if harmless, trait,” Hill admits, but necessarily indulges with a gracious modesty. All kinds of titbits spice her wide-ranging observations on literature from pop-up books to the real heavyweights.

One of the charms of this volume is how Hill’s opinions, always honest and courteously proffered, set up resonances with one’s own reading. Hill is sharp, versatile, and (a rare talent) almost always interesting!

 This is quite the most delightful of books – I promise you a wonderful trip around Hills bookshelves. Perhaps reading really is the only thing worth doing??

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Part One –

I hardly dare admit that I purchased this book but it proved a stimulating read….. as I continue to struggle what it is that makes for a respected politician of first rank. For those believers in the present paradise of coalition politics there will be much more of this legacy writing! And for those quick to dismiss beware – we all want to be remembered for something.

Having just spent four weeks reading a daily newspaper I am led to the belief that todays journalism is full of  fabrications, myths, gossip, fixing, power, legacy making.  In this book we have a glimpse of  a great schemer for whom nothing went to plan.

 He reached the cabinet, but his career at the top table was short and fragmented, terminated twice by scandal and a third time by election defeat. A very brief stint holding the, now defunct, title of trade and industry secretary ended in the disgrace of the home loan scandal. He was brought back as Northern Ireland secretary only to be defenestrated again. His cabinet career under Tony Blair amounted to a span of just 19 months. He then went to Brussels where he became one of the more effective and more disliked commissioners.  If you want proper accounts of what really happened over the Iraq war and many other crucial episodes, you won’t find them here.

He settles scores. We learn that Alastair Campbell, for all his declarations of loyalty to the Labour clan, only agreed to help at the recent election grudgingly because he thought it was a “lost cause”. This book claims  to be a frank  autobiography  but  much of it is  cold and  impersonal.  Inside the confidence and legacy making is a fearful and very secretive person struggling to be effective in this crazy world of claim and counter claim.

What did become of him? His friend, Charles Clarke, once : “Peter is the ultimate courtier.” His influence flowed from making himself very useful to whoever was the most important figure in the Labour party of the day. First, it was Neil Kinnock, whom he helped to rescue Labour from the pit into which it had descended in the early 1980s. Then, he was consigliere to Tony Blair, whom he assisted with the creation of New Labour. These were both significant contributions to political history. He relished the power and notoriety, but there is also a hint of self-loathing just below the surface of the text. He is not happy that “through much of our time in government, my influence was exercised largely behind the scenes”. He wanted to be the star, but wound up as the stage manager.  

Does he make sense of it all? Not really. He doesn’t even explain himself properly. Having spent more than 500 pages in his slippery company, the reader doesn’t feel that he has met the real Mandelson.  But the judgement is easy to make and   too obvious perhaps – the question for us is our legacy and the shape of the political system.

Now then – when will Mr Blairs pages arrive? To be continued.

It is August and time for a break…..

which means?

and

thats laughter just in case you forgot!

and

a little bit of good food

and the sea……. (secret Im off to Wales! Do you know where this is?)

 and castles … different from this home from home!

rest…..

See you in September

xxxxx James