Monday, October 10, 2016

You couldn't make up the Jeremy Thorpe affair

Maybe A Very English Scandal is as good as it is is because John Preston couldn't publish it until Jeremy Thorpe died in 2014.

I like to think he used that time polishing his account of the Norman Scott affair until it gleams like a truly superior airport novel.

It couldn't be an actual airport novel. The story it tells is too tawdry. Instead of a climax it has a misfire. It's a misfire that fits perfectly with all the bungling that led to it. The two main protagonists both act as though the world owes them a living. Everybody else in the story is just used.

It's a story replete with English types no airport novelist would dare invent: Thorpe's cigar-smoking, monocle-wearing mother who lived on boiled eggs; the eccentric peer of the realm who played a saintly role in homosexual law reform and had badgers roaming free in his home; the chancer Peter Bessell who had to atone for his role as Thorpe's consigliere by living out his days in a one-room shack on a California beach; the extraordinary George Carman QC who could be mortally drunk at two in the morning and then rise in the morning to twist a jury round his little finger; the almost inevitable appearance in the narrative of Jimmy Saville.

I read it in a couple of sittings. It would make a great film. That'll never happen because no American could possibly begin to understand how weird England can be. Shame.