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
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
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.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London