As a reward for completing my VAT early, I treated myself to a copy of The End of the Party by Andrew Rawnsley. As it was only two days after publication I also have vague hopes it might be worth something one day. I am only a few chapters in but it does seem to be a fairly momentous hatchet job. Gordon Brown and co must be quite relieved that the huge size and expense of it will deter the many from finding the energy and cash to buy it, at least before the election which must happen this year.
Thoughts so far: this is a classic bit of narrative history, albeit only the history of the last ten years, with events at which he was often present. As a narrative it is as compelling as any novel. It has all the ingredients of a great novel – rounded, well drawn characters who are as flawed as they are talented, titantic amounts of conflict and something really important at stake.
Firstly those characters – Brown, Blair and Mandelson. Any novelist would have been proud to come up with a cast like this, and even more pleased to have drawn them so finely and freshness. These are familiar faces but now they seem quite new. There is a great sense of revelation, of going behind the scenes. Even four or five chapters into the book, I have a great sense of what makes them tick, what their goals are, and why that is problematic in relation to the others.
The conflict comes out of the characters, and their irreconcilable differences. This is always extremely satisfying in narrative terms. These three men are locked in a menage a trois. They have been comrades in the battle of opposition but now they have now fallen out. They have acquired great power and all the responsibility that implies, and they must try and share it. Except they can’t. It is a toxic combination. Each seems to bring out the worst in the other and in all the people about them. This is all made perfectly clear, as is the tragedy that will inexorably follow, with so much at stake - the fate of the country no less. It is compelling. I am desperate to read on. I want to sit up all night with this book as if it were an airport thriller designed to keep me on the edge of my seat. Rawnsley takes his raw material and makes it sing.
But part of me does not want to read on. I am riveted but the writing is so good that the truths he expresses hit too hard. This is my country these men are messing up with their personal conflicts. This is not Shakespeare. It is what has happened in Britain during the last twelve years. It is enough to make one throw the book across the room in despair. Which is not what Mr Rawnsley deserves. I just wonder if he has not done his job rather too well. Could I stomach these truths better if they were presented, dare I say it, with less writerly panache? But then would I ever read it? And is it not his intention that I should feel such disgust and want something better from the political process. Is it a call to action? I think it probably is.
And that shows us again the power of the essential ingredients of narrative: well drawn characters with attitude, great interpersonal conflict and something important at stake. Rawnsley could have written a dull book even given his extraordinary material. I have read non-fiction books about sensational subjects that have completely failed to bring the subject to life. But he is a master of his craft and he avoids the traps. I think I am going to be dragged kicking and screaming through it. I can’t wait.