Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Very English Scandal: sex, lies and a murder plot at the heart of the establishment

Passing years may tempt us to regard Jeremy Thorpe not so much wicked as absurd — a skinny, waistcoated Kenneth Williams figure mewling “Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it infamy me,” to his big fat friend Cyril Smith. Thorpe led the Liberal Party for nine years from 1967 and nearly formed a government with the Tories in 1974. An Eton dandy, his mouth twitched with nascent drolleries. He wore trilby hats and lived in terror of his old dragon of a mother, whose left eye gleamed with a monocle.

 A Very English Scandal
In 1979, less comically, Thorpe was tried for conspiring to murder his gay lover Norman Scott. Somehow he was acquitted.

There have been numerous non-fiction Thorpe books, including last year a fine biography by Michael Bloch. Auberon Waugh wrote a fizzing account of the trial. Other Thorpe chroniclers have included reporters Magnus Linklater and Barrie Penrose.

Now comes one from John Preston, who brings a novelist’s nib to proceedings. Is that a euphemism for saying he has invented things? This fluent, readable book has certainly been polished with a f air degree of what Fleet Street feature editors once called topspin: “Give it some topspin, old boy. Make the copy sing.” In this John Preston more than succeeds.

A Very English Scandal does not seek to be biography or learned treatise. It places a premium on narrative zing. Readers fastidious about fact may find their sensibilities bruised. The author — I nearly said scriptwriter — aims for a vivid tableau of the players in Thorpe’s long, tragic downfall.  (more...)

What? Only in England?

Would that Canadian journalists could uncramp their hands.

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