This may be the seventh part of my review, but this is only the second part of the book. I was originally planning to review part 1 in its entirety as a single post, but as you can probably guess, there was a bit too much information to really do that.
Just as promised, all of the political rumors fester in the heat as the House of Commons breaks for summer. Not only was there nobody to really give comment, the lack of political news created an environment where there’s a vacuum that reporters are itching to fill. The less scrupulous or professional journalists stretch the truth, technically not writing anything untrue, but not particularly adhering to journalistic standards. The coverage is hardly flattering to Henry Collingridge, especially since Charles Collingridge is hardly laying low during the recess. He’s had a not-so-sober trip to Bordeaux. Then again, few of Charles Collingridge’s trips are sober. He’s getting into enough trouble as he is without gossip magazine journalists trying to get him drunker to get more material, or even paying someone to pose for a fabricated photo of presumably a drunken sexual encounter.
These are the points where, as a journalist myself, my eye begins to twitch. It’s not something isolated to this book, but a trope that I find in fiction, especially political fiction. Recently, I watched the film adaptation of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum as part of a German Literature class I’m taking. It’s a wonderful story, and the original book is on my reading list for the summer. Still, everybody in the class could probably see me grinding my teeth at the actions of one of the main characters. I’m not sure why political thrillers and dishonest journalist characters seem to go hand in hand. I think it could stem from either perspective. Michael Dobbs has a background in politics himself, so I think it seems like he might be airing some frustration with journalists. Then again, had this book been written by an author with a journalism background, I could see them airing frustration with journalists that make their own profession look bad. Then again, I’m just speculating here, I don’t know exactly what was going through when he was writing this.
Among the journalists at an event after the summer gauntlet, Mattie get to stay in the same hotel as the politicians. It’s not quite clear exactly what this event is. It really strikes me as an attempt to create a The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum style allegory. In that book, the publication that plagues Katharina Blum is just called Die Zeitung,which just means “The Newspaper”. It’s intentionally vague so that the reader can project the story onto their own perceptions. That keeps the commentary relevant and stops the story from being dated. It seems that Dobbs is trying to use the same type of strategy here.
There’s a bit of imagery in this section that I think is pretty clever, but also rubs me the wrong way. Mattie gets some information about the Party’s poll numbers falling below the Opposition’s. However, she didn’t see who left the information by her door. She calls her editor and he just yells at her. As he does so, the towel that Mattie was using to cover herself falls to the ground, leaving her completely naked as her editor basically reads her the riot act. “She’d made a fool of herself. Not for the first time. But normally she didn’t do it stark naked.”
On one hand, leaving Mattie exposed and vulnerable as she finds herself at the mercy of her editor’s scorn is an interesting bit of imagery. However, it’s also something of a trope to have a female character naked in situations where she doesn’t really need to be. It seems a little weird that Mattie didn’t think to throw on any clothing before she answered the door to check what was going on before she found the package. It’s not a deal breaker with this book, but it’s an irritating trope.