Pan, London, 1966
The blurb on the back:
John Norman, successful British political journalist, deplored American women. He felt they had ‘swopped the mysteries and allure of true femininity for an equal stake in a man’s world.’
Simply magnificent. If you want a snapshot of Britain in the pre-Beatles ‘60s, then this one is essential reading. As the sleeve-notes indicate, this is essentially a study of the conflict between British and American social attitudes, albeit weighted somewhat by our British hero being very wealthy and our American heroine being a self-made woman: this is not the meritocratic Swinging London that you’d find just a couple of years later.
So you get English characters simply horrified by simple Americanisms:
Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. I mean, the word ‘novelization’ is – in my estimation – simply a very useful coinage to describe a new phenomenon in literature. There was no existing term, because there was no such object in existence until the arrival of cinema. And it is an American invention, so frankly they can call it whatever they want.
But then there’s nothing to say that I’m supposed to agree with the attitudes expressed here. And boy, there are some attitudes. The fact that these are political and economic journalists means that there’s something of an edge to the chit-chat. Here’s our hero on what we now call the EU:
Needless to say, he’s not too keen on the French either. But apart from the distrust of Europeans, what intrigues me here is that even as far back as 1962 the terminology is of giving up sovereignty. As I write this, more than 40 years on, we’re heading towards a referendum on a new European Constitution, and still there are politicians who refuse to admit that the EU project demands a yielding of sovereignty. And, on the other side, there are plenty of politicians who wouldn’t dare admit in public that their hesitancy over Europe is based on a suspicion of the national characteristics of our partners. In fact it’s only the likes of Robert Kilroy-Silk, Norman Tebbit and the late Nicholas Ridley who would espouse such a view.
But I wouldn’t want to give you the impression that this is all serious political discussion. In fact the overall tone is one of very deft satire. I love, for example, a gritty novelist who, when asked if he’s working on a new book, snaps back: ‘I don’t never work on a book! It works on me!’ (p.256) And, although I know I’m quoting at length, I want to share this brilliant parody of upper-class artistic slumming:
There’s masses of this stuff, absolutely brilliantly written. And occasionally it’s very edgy indeed, as it faces uncomfortable truths with an unflinching gaze and a remorseless logic. The anti-Semitism of the British ruling class, in particular, is taken head on, and then developed into unexpected areas, in particular into the nature of race-play in S&M. Now there’s something you didn’t expect to find.
And finally, I feel I should note that underlying the entire narrative is a sense of optimism, a real hope that in Kennedy and Khrushchev we might just have the leaders that will build a better world. Of course, by the time the book was published, Kennedy was running out of time, and things were destined to get much worse.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 4/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT: 2/5
Dee Wells, Jane