A Walk-On Part: Diaries 1994-1999, By Chris Mullin
Then, By Julie Myerson
Tower: An Epic History of the Tower of London, By Nigel Jones
Nightwoods, By Charles Frazier
I Still Dream About You, By Fannie Flagg

Paperback reviews of the week

A Walk-On Part: Diaries 1994-1999 By Chris Mullin

Profile, £9.99

****

Diaries are the most private of literary forms, but politicians know that they are writing for the public. Diaries that might be called in evidence in an enquiry one day; might even, if the author rises high enough in the ranks, be published. With this in mind, they're always a strange hybrid of public account and private self-justification.

Chris Mullin, an MP for 23 years and former departmental minister in the Labour government of Tony Blair, doesn't reinvent or challenge this hybrid – personal "moments" are confined to his five-year-old daughter's cute comments, and his writing style is hardly at the level of the Booker, the prize he helped judge in 2011. But he is on the inside, which is all we need to know, and he's pleasingly partisan, too. A fan of Blair and loather of Brown, he nevertheless criticises the former for not restraining Peter Mandelson, and praises the latter in office: "these days Gordon exudes an aura of competence and self-confidence which, in opposition, he lacked." He lets us see the predictions he makes, too: "At last, a Labour Chancellor who is not at the mercy of events." Oops.

One nice point – he has a conversation in 1998 with John Major, telling the former PM jokingly that all he needs now is a stately home in which to hang the portrait he has had painted of himself and his wife, Norma. "I can't afford one," Major replies. "You'll have to do a few more of those lectures," Mullin tells him. Tony Blair must have been ear-wigging.

 

Then, By Julie Myerson

Vintage, £7.99

****

Myerson, never one to resist the personal, references her "dark year" in her Acknowledgements, pointing perhaps to her memoir about her son's drug-taking and the subsequent hostile media coverage. Then possibly emerges from that experience, a dystopia, where post-apocalyptic London is home to a woman who's lost her memory and her family. She lives in a destroyed office block with a stranger called Graham and three young people, Sophy, Ted and shadowy Matthew. Gradually, as her memory returns, the horror of what she has done to her family, and the mass violation she seems to feel she has invited, emerges. Writers always imagine that their own world is the world at large; in this case, Myerson's necessary authorial egotism has turned round a really compelling story.

 

Tower: An Epic History of the Tower of London, By Nigel Jones

Windmill, £8.99

****

Much of this deliciously bloody history involves kings and queens and their renegade subjects or throne-grabbing relatives, but the Tower of London wasn't just a fortress and a palace; it was also, rather bizarrely, something of a zoo for many kings, housing an exotic and dangerous menagerie that included lions and tigers and even an elephant. And it wasn't always the impenetrable castle its originator, William the Conqueror, hoped it would be: Wat Tyler's hordes managed to break into the apartments of Queen Joan, mother of Richard II in 1381, for example, and molest both her and her ladies-in-waiting. The Tower's grisly reputation for torture didn't really begin until the reign of Henry VIII, though, a reputation it has never quite shaken off.

 

Nightwoods, By Charles Frazier

Sceptre, £7.99

*****

This superb tale of lone, forest-dwelling Luce, who has been obliged to take in her murdered sister's mute young children, builds up Night of the Hunter-type tension, as Frazier dramatises his battle between good and evil. Luce's brother-in-law, Bud, gets off his murder charge thanks to a weak prosecutor and comes looking for his step-children, convinced that they know where his dead wife stashed the loot he stole. Luce herself is a kind of mirror-image of the mute children, damaged into retreating into this forest, unwilling to engage, until the unlikely prospect of Stubblefield, the grandson of her landlord, comes into view. A tale of second chances, and the damage and the good that families can do, it is little short of a masterpiece.

 

I Still Dream About You, By Fannie Flagg

Vintage, £7.99

****

Flagg possesses the enviable talent of lightening the darkest subjects without ever trivialising them. This partly due to the honest intimacy of her protagonists' voices: in this case, former Miss Alabama, Maggie Fortenberry, who has decided to end her life, seeing little point in carrying on with her failing estate agency business and her single life. Flagg treats her characters with respect – she has Maggie fill out a "Things to do before I go" list which is eminently practical and meant to cause as few problems afterwards as possible, without ever making her look ridiculous. Flagg's women-dominated worlds may seem heart-warming and cosy, but they also tap into women's real fears and dreams.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project