Monday, 2 November 2009

FT today: RTK on Robert Harris's Lustrum

My short-ish write-up of Harris's second Cicero novel runs in the Financial Times today. This was my first real encounter with Harris's bestselling storytelling, though I've long been a big fan of his non-fiction, especially his books on Neil Kinnock and Bernard Ingham, both of which evoke brilliantly a world of British politics that now feels like aeons ago - albeit not so far-distant as 63BC, where Lustrum begins.
So wryly skilful is the novel's use of ancient history that I wish it had been around in those years when I was studying Classics for 'O' and 'A' Level (years when Kinnock still had his tin hat on, trying to lead Labour out of the trenches, while Ingham was browbeating the press corps Yorkshire-style on behalf of his beloved Margaret.) Still, at least in the late 1980s I had Gore Vidal's scurrilous Creation to help me inject some irony into the 'Golden Age of Athens' part of the examination paper.
Had I the word-space in the FT I would have added of Lustrum that it clearly extends Robert Harris's compulsion to explore the mindset and behaviour of Tony Blair through fictive means. Throughout, there are meaningful if toga-clad allusions to things Blair has said and done, sometimes expressed through the vehicle of Cicero, other times through Gaius Julius Caesar - in other words, sometimes in a reasonably sympathetic manner, other times with the sort of animus that John Rentoul has instinctively deplored.

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