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TARA HANKS
Wicked Baby


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Publish And Be Damned, pabd.com, 2004
price: £8.99; 110 pages

dedication: To Andy, with love


The blurb on the back:

Itís 1960, and a seventeen-year old girl is alone in London. While working as a dancer in a club, she meets a jaded society doctor who introduces her to rich and powerful men. But Christine Keeler is much more than just another empty-headed beauty. Privy to secrets that threaten the heart of government, she is hunted down and forced to tell the truth as she sees it. Wicked Baby is a novella based on the events of the Profumo Affair, a tale of innocence corrupted that dares to imagine the complex desires and motives behind a very English scandal.


opening lines:
My name is Christine. I live in Wraysbury, a village near Staines. I was born in a caravan, made from a railway carriage by my father. It was the only caravan in a village of bungalows.


Four decades on, and the power of the Profumo scandal to fascinate seems as strong as ever, as Iíve noticed when looking at the web-stats for this site Ė every month it turns up two or three entries in the twenty most commonly used search strings that bring people here. Itís an odd thing, given how silly and peripheral the Ďscandalí actually was, but the British obsession with powerful men having sex remains unabated, and at least with Profumo, one can claim a kind of historical interest: it did, after all, do the Tories some considerable damage.

To its credit, this novel doesnít pretend to any spurious political justification for retelling the story. Indeed, politics are quite a long way in the background, with just the occasional glimpse of MI5, Berlin and Cuba to suggest the broader world in which a group of human beings flounder helplessly, caught up in events that spiral beyond any of their control. The result is a highly readable account that allows a range of the key players a chance to be heard, including not just Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, but also the likes of Stephen Ward and John Profumoís wife Valerie.

To some extent, this is the main flaw in the piece. With just a hundred pages available, itís a bit ambitious to try to reflect quite so many sides of the story. The title and the blurb had led me to expect that it would be told entirely from Christineís perspective, but she gets only the Prologue and the Epilogue for a first-person account, with the major bulk of the book in the hands of an omniscient narrator. Perhaps inevitably thereís a consequent lack of character focus, with the personalities sketched rather than analysed in depth. But what could have been a fatal weakness turns out in the end to be actually quite a strength: the sketching is effectively done, and the simple factual tone blends the efficiency of journalism with, curiously, the immediacy of fairytale:

Valerie wasnít surprised; she knew Jack liked young women, and he was used to getting what he wanted. Three anonymous letters had been sent, telling her of an affair with a girl named Christine Keeler. Jack said they had come from MI5. It was cowardly of them, she thought. (p.74)

See what I mean? Thatís the first appearance of Valerie in the book, but it captures a type with great economy. The delivery suggests a group of individuals more acted upon than acting, and the sweep across all the major figures convincingly portrays the atmosphere of the dawning of the Sixties Ė a slightly grubby mix of the sordid and the glamorous that was to be one of the lasting iconic images of that era.

In short, itís a good one, well worth your time if you have any interest at all in the period. And, as ever, weíre very keen here on promoting good writing from independent publishers. Visit Ms Hanksí website below to find out how to buy your copy.


available from Tara Hanks' website
or from
Publish And Be Damned

ARTISTIC MERIT: 3/5
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE:
3/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT:
2/5


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other books on Profumo

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