The Spider and the Fly
Sphere, London, 1977
(price: 75p; 192 pages)
first published in Great Britain by Hamish Hamilton, 1974
dedication: For Dolly and Jack
The blurb on the back:
Passion plus politics equals double trouble.
Richard Brooke has a brilliant future ahead of him. An ambitious and dynamic MP, he seems to have his path to ministerial office as smooth as any politician could wish.
Then he meets Alex and for the first time in his life Brooke experiences real passion, passion that could destroy him. Who is Alex? Is she really just a beautiful American journalist? Why does she carry a revolver at the bottom of her bag? Why does she appear as if by magic in the most unexpected places and then disappear just when Brooke needs her most? Above all, what is her true connexion with the mysterious Almeida?
Brooke discovers the brutal truth when, with his career crumbling around him, he finds Alex has made him the tool of an international conspiracy...
Brooke was late. The House had sat longer than he expected.
See that cover? That's tack, that is. Real tack.
Imagine then my disappointment when it turns out that that is a decent little novel. Really very nice, in its own quiet way. Deeply distressing, it is.
So, the plot's not up to much - doesn't quite hang together, rushes itself at the last fence and so on, the usual problems - but the book's worth reading for its depiction of a politician standing on the edge of government and waiting for the call to step forward. I'm also interested by the fact that, as in The Prime Minister's Daughter, we're told by a newspaper proprietor that being a hack is more important than being a politician: 'You need a regular platform, and I don't mean Parliament. That's as much use to an active young MP as a virgin in a brothel. I mean a regular column read by millions every week.' (p.57)
You see, I like that kind of thing. It's smart, cynical and quite happy to offend. Similarly, here's our hero in a Dublin pub raging against alcoholic Irish nationalism:
He felt a sudden anger at the blatant racialism, the powerful ignorance of a people drugged with legend. Who did they think they were, these leeches swollen with the very blood they denigrated? A rabble that had gnawed for centuries at England's breast, singing Roisin Dubh in English, a whole race denying its dependence with melancholy jests and a mawkish way with words. It was all a confidence trick, thought Brooke, a self-confidence trick, the whining bonhomie no more than a mask for a nation's sense of its own inadequacy. (p.33)
Here he is denying that the current female star of the Cabinet will ever be Prime Minister:
'Like hell she will be.'
'Not a chance. She's got no power base.'
'Only about fifteen million women. Right?'
'It's not the voters that count. She needs the support in the Cabinet and Party.' (pp.117-118)
And here's a British diplomat commenting on the state of the nation - and Fleet Street's finest - from abroad:
'What's the fellow's name? Rees-Davies? Reis-Davies? You know, on The Times.'
'Rees-Mogg?' said Brooke.
'Mogg, that's it. Mogg. I knew it was something foreign. Dear God. It's the thin end of the wedge when you find a fellow called Mogg editing The Times. I ask you. Is a fellow called Mogg likely to inspire confidence in the pound? Can you imagine nations trembling at the thunderings of a person called Mogg? Same with everything these days. BBC, C of E, MCC. They've all sold out. Nowadays it's all demonstrations, anarchy, pornography. Galloping paralysis, that's what it is.' (pp.127-128)
Finally, here's an old-style Labour activist on the state of the Party these days (1974, in case you forget):
'Do you think a Labour government these days can have a member who's rumoured to be a Red? Not any more it can't. You know what the Party's like these days - it's more conservative than the bloody Tories.' (p.178)
Go on, I dare you to resist it. Top stuff.
Mr Lord also seems to have written a number of other works that included - on either side of this one - Marshmallow Pie (1970) and God and All His Angels (1976).
ARTISTIC MERIT: 3/5
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 5/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT: 2/5