Books: A week in books
Boyd Tonkin is Literary Editor at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Social Policy Editor of the New Statesman and has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes. He has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize for a lifetime's achievement in literature.
Saturday 01 February 1997
Yet here comes heavy-footed Michael Dobbs again. Between them, his star Ian Richardson and his adapter Andrew Davies dragged Dobbs's Francis Urquhart trilogy way above its literary station. Some similarly gifted TV team should do the same with Goodfellowe MP (HarperCollins, pounds 16.99) to wipe out the memory of just how dull this novel is. Thomas Goodfellowe, its crumpled crusader, is a backbench "piece of parliamentary flotsam" with a wrecked family and a glorious future behind him. In a less than thrilling intrigue, he ventures out from his Soho eyrie to bust a Buchaneseque industrial cartel which plans (with help from a crudely caricatured Maxwellian magnate) to seize control of British newsapers. The only laugh in this perfunctory plot, decked out in dreary Archer-level prose, comes from the notion that EU legislation might force our upstanding breed of media barons to sell their titles to a bunch of spivs. Remind me, now: who is it that controls HarperCollins?
In contrast, Michael Toner's Seeing the Light (Simon & Schuster, pounds 15.99) manages a few half-decent thrills and some nice touches of sulphurous wit. Toner (a former Express lobby correspondent) creates a Tory minister compelled to do good by three glimpses of heaven and hell.
The sudden conversion to virtue - and the havoc it wreaks - has a fine satirical pedigree (Toner calls his would-be saint George Gulliver). Unexpectedly, though, those parts of the book that stray furthest from political shenanigans impress the most. Toner's efforts to enter the head of "a 20th-century Englishman sunk in medieval dread" work surprisingly well, especially when Gulliver sets off on a sacrificial quest into the Sahara. Meanwhile, the usual Westminster imbroglio - with its sleazy hacks and back-stabbing MPs - raises only faint smiles. For blood and guts, the actual Tory leadership contest of 1990 outstripped the one Toner invents. Still, I did enjoy the idea of the Almighty materialising to Gulliver as a pukka gent in a Garrick Club tie. As He explains, "You need metaphors, George". So do we all - including a few of the plodding literalists who walk the parliamentary fiction beat.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Emma Watson on Jennifer Lawrence naked photo leak: 'Even worse than seeing women's privacy violated is reading the comments'
- 2 Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb
- 3 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- 4 Cee Lo Green: It is only rape if the victim is conscious
- 5 Nigerian witch-finder Helen Ukpabio threatens legal action against human rights organisations
Scottish independence referendum: Franz Ferdinand, Mogwai and Frightened Rabbit to play in support of Yes campaign
Jessica Chastain demands Scarlett Johansson-fronted Marvel superhero movie
Downton Abbey series 5 start date revealed: ITV drama to return in late September
Nicki Minaj suffers wardrobe malfunction during MTV VMAs performance with Ariana Grande and Jessie J
Olivia Colman and Mary Berry top Radio Times' female power list
Rotherham child sex abuse scandal: Labour Home Office to be probed over what Tony Blair's government knew - and when
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Ashya King: Parents of five-year-old boy refused permission to visit him in hospital and denied bail at Spanish court
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
Ashya King: 'Cruel NHS has not given us the treatment we need', says father of five-year-old with brain tumour who fled to Spain