Audiobook: The Truth, By Michael Palin (read by Alex Jennings)
Recipe for a bestseller: just add spice
Sunday 14 October 2012
Suppose you were asked to write, in top gear and for a handsome fee, an undercover biography of a man you have admired all your life. Your subject is Hamish Melville, a legendary humanitarian hero, a reclusive David Attenborough-cum-Gandhi moving about the world at speed righting wrongs and eschewing personal publicity. You hit lucky: you come upon the old man deep in rural India, organising an effective protest against a mining conglomerate bent on widespread local destruction. After several adventures, during which you get the chance to demonstrate your genuine sympathy for Melville, he agrees to help with your project. The book is written and delivered on time: you await the publisher's generous payment, which you seriously need.
But it doesn't arrive. Your book, beautifully crafted as it is, fails to please the publisher. It is too laudatory. He wants you to discover flaws in the man, to dish the dirt. You can't find any, so he finds it for you. But the evidence is unconvincing. What are you to do?
This is the story told in Michael Palin's well-researched, crisply written and beguiling second novel. Its idealistic journalist hero, Keith Mabbut, is 56. His biggest achievement to date is having been presented with a British Gas award; his marriage is on the skids and he's pretty low. He has become a doomy hack, and he is longing to write something valuable and important when his agent, Silla, introduces him to Urgent Books, and their sleek and slithery publisher Ken Latham. This looks like Keith's big moment.
And so it proves to be, against mighty odds. The story, never slow, gathers pace towards a splendidly triumphant, unexpected ending. And Keith is an appealing, credible chap. A bewildered innocent at first, ready to help his daughter's Iranian boyfriend protect his family from disaster, and making every effort to understand and believe the best of everybody, he is forced, ultimately, to confront the truth – about Melville, Silla, Latham, the boyfriend and, most of all, himself.
Alex Jennings is the perfect reader, giving a rough old Scottish twang to Melville, a 40-a-day rasp to Silla, several distinct voices to the Indians who help Keith find Melville, and sharply defined identities to all the devils and darlings Keith encounters in his research. He is a cast of thousands.
A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend
A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 James Foley 'beheaded': Isis video shows militant with British accent 'execute US journalist' – and warns Obama of more to come
- 2 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns aged 27
- 3 Cilla Black defends Cliff Richard: 'I am positive that the allegations are without foundation'
- 4 Nicki Minaj finally releases predictable 'Anaconda' video
- 5 James Foley 'beheading': Met police warn public watching murder video could be criminal offence
Calvin Harris named highest-paid DJ in the world ahead of David Guetta and Avicii
JK Rowling releases new Harry Potter story on Pottermore: Introducing Celestina Warbuck, the 'Singing Sorceress'
Reading Festival 2014: Tesco branch replaces salad and potatoes for Jagermeister and vodka
The funniest joke at Edinburgh Fringe 2014: Tim Vine wins for second time
Celebrity Big Brother 2014 line-up: Meet the contestants from Lauren Goodger to Kellie Maloney and Audley Harrison
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Crisis? What crisis? A visiting US doctor gives the NHS a rave review
Ukip MEP calls for reintroduction of death penalty on fiftieth anniversary of last deaths
Russell Brand calls for Israel boycott: Comedian urges big businesses that 'facilitate the oppression of people in Gaza' to pull funding
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head