Dominic Cavendish on literature

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The Independent Culture
Could Sebastian Faulks (right) bring down the Government? A mini- scandal has arisen following the suggestion in his biographical triptych The Fatal Englishman that Douglas Hurd vindictively thrashed fatal Englishman No3, Jeremy Wolfenden, while he was at Eton. Hurd apparently denies this, but true or not, it is far too fitting a symbol of ingrained Tory inhumanity not to trigger another defection and a general election.

It is those nuggets, accrued through two years of research, that hook you into Faulks's portrait of youthful promise dashed. The subjects - the painter Christopher Wood, WWII fighter pilot Richard Hillary and cold war intelligence-gatherer Wolfenden - moved in interesting times: there is 1920s decadence (the Marchesa di Casati's habit of feeding a boa-constrictor with live animals during dinner), there is Battle of Britain nonchalance (Hillary walks from his crashed Spitfire to the nearest cocktail party). It was, according to Faulks, the perfect antidote to novelist's block after the acclaimed Birdsong. Unfortunately, the temptation did creep in to do a bit of ad-lib theorising - fine for the psychology of self- destruction, but not for a breakdown of national identity. "I wanted to write about England without sounding like a Pimm's advertisement," he says. At times, it smacks of Pimm's plus rotten apples.

Just space to briefly mention motor-mouth Attila the Stockbroker, highly favoured since his rant "The Bible According to Rupert Murdoch". He's on the road again. Go see.

Faulks reads today: 6pm Cottesloe, National Theatre, London SE1 (0171- 928 2252); Attila: 8.30pm tonight BAC, London SW11 (0171-223 2223); 8pm Sat, Guildhall Arts Centre, Gloucester (01452 505089)

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