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Posted on 10 Aug 2018 in The Godfather: Peter Corris | 1 comment

The Godfather: Peter Corris on being doubly bookish

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I’ve written before about having two books on the go to read – one on my Kindle and one as an audio. Colour me bookish, but it doesn’t always work out well. Recently I abandoned one of each, a rare thing for me to do, having paid for them. One was a crime story and the other a Barchester novel from Anthony Trollope. The crime book’s standard plot bored me and I simply couldn’t get interested in the machinations of 19th-century clerics despite Trollope’s irony and wit.

After some web browsing and advice from my friend Michael Wilding, I substituted the disappointments with two other books and struck it lucky with both.

These, although utterly different, greatly pleased me. In fact, I had trouble deciding which to return to next.

Many years ago I read Edith Wharton and thought well of her. I’m unsure whether I read The Age of Innocence (1920) back then but if so, I had completely forgotten it. Coming to it anew or afresh I was astonished to find how good it is. As a portrait of upper-crust life in the New York of the 1870s it is outstanding, not because it is analytical or descriptive but because the time, place and characters emerge and engage convincingly and compellingly, such is the fineness of the writing. There is something of the quality of Henry James but Wharton is much less circumlocutory, funnier and more ironic. The book is a tour de force of style, structure, pace and plot. A 9 on my best-reads list, possibly a 9.5.

John Preston’s A Very English Scandal: Sex, lies and a murder plot at the heart of the Establishment (2016)* tells the story of the rise of Jeremy Thorpe to the leadership of the British Liberal Party, his bisexuality, his scheme to kill a troublesome ex-lover and the way the Establishment conspired to spare him the legal punishment he deserved. As I read I was aware that most readers would see these events as happening in the fairly distant past – mostly the 1960s and 70s, but I remember it all well – the headlines, the relayed BBC radio reports, the feeling of it being like a supercharged episode of Rumpole of the Bailey.

The book is not particularly well written, pedestrian in parts, but the interest of the story sees it through. Thorpe, a product of Eton and Oxford, had some good instincts and some very bad habits – especially his propensity to have others clean up his messes. This worked well enough in the political sphere but when it came to the serious matter of murder, the people he relied on could scarcely have been more inept. Suicide was threatened by several people, letters were written, lost, stolen, sold. Money sloshed around for bribes and the would-be assassin’s payoff. In the end only a dog died.

As I moved between the two books, the contrast between the depiction of a time when, among the privileged, conscience and ‘form’ mattered, and another where these things were thrown out the window, provided a rich reading experience.

*A three- part mini-series based on the book and starring Hugh Grant as Jeremy Thorpe as been produced this year by the BBC.

1 Comment

  1. Ooooh the contrast between those two would have been amazing!! Great picks 😉 I just recently read The Age Of Innocence for the first time myself, and I was amazed at how much Wharton could communicate to the reader in such a subtle (but, as you said, fierce!) way. Loved hearing your thoughts!!