Category Archives: Books

What really is “Kafkaesque”?

Kafka statue Prague
I’d heard the word “Kafkaesque” being bandied around for years, but only had a vague idea what it meant.

So, upon recently renewing my local library card, I was emboldened to take out their copy of “The Trial” to try to find out what “Kafkaesque” really means – or should mean. (Often words, which are misused, metamorphisise officially to their misused meaning. “Literally” is now accepted as often meaning “used for emphasis while not being literally true”.)

A friend commented: “Ahah! Starting with the light reads, eh?”

In fact, I was greatly impressed by the attractive narrative style of Franz Kafka. There are two horrendously violent incidents in the book. Apart from that, the story proceeds in a very charming and engaging way. The narrator and the subject seem to be intertwined.

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Book review: Charles Kennedy: A Tragic Flaw by Greg Hurst

I had a chance to read this recently updated book while on holiday in West Africa. It is a remarkably fine volume. Painstakingly researched and impeccably sourced, it offers a skillfully balanced portrait of a remarkable and inspiring man. As the title suggests, the author does not hold back on the human frailties of its subject but these are, nevertheless, presented as part of a rounded, fair and endearing commentary. I feel this book helps us to inch forward a little further in understanding the rather enigmatic Charles Kennedy, while deconstructing a few myths along the way.

I’ll pick out a few parts of the book which particularly caught my attention:

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Book review: ‘This Boy’ by Alan Johnson

this boyWhile this is a very late review, hopefully it will persuade anyone left in the political community, who has not read Alan Johnson’s “This Boy”, to read it.

I tend to read at a snail’s pace and also have a habit of (accidentally) reading volumes of memoirs back to front chronologically. I read both Alan Clark’s and Chris Mullin’s volumes backwards. I read and reviewed Alan Johnson’s later work “Please Mister Postman” last summer. Just before Christmas I was kindly loaned “This Boy”.

The book is a remarkably detailed, harrowing account of a one-parent (and then no-parent) family living in 1950s/60s London in grinding, distressing poverty as the parent suffers increasingly failing health. Abandoned by her husband, Johnson’s mother, Lily, works all the hours God sends, and struggles bravely to bring up her children, Linda and Alan. Living in appalling slum conditions, they manage to survive through various trials and hardships. Linda emerges as a great confidante of her mother and a strong pseudo-parent for Alan as she grows into a young adult.

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Tim’s new chief of staff and a hangover after a late spring evening drinking with friends

It’s not what you think.

Tim Farron recently introduced his new Chief of Staff, Ben Williams, on these pages:

Ben was the standout candidate and brings a wealth of experience at all levels of the party from council campaigner to Head of Liberal Democrat Whips’ Office and latterly a Special Adviser. Everyone who has worked with him knows his skills and how brilliantly he works under pressure. There were many points over our years in government when I saw Ben, at first hand, make sure the government kept delivering liberal policies under tremendous pressures. He is exactly what our party needs – someone who can help me to help our party grow and thrive.

Ben Williams also has, according to self-publishing website Lulu.com, “always harboured a secret passion for writing.”

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Vince Cable’s “After the Storm – The World Economy & Britain’s Economic Future”

after the stormWider in scope and more ambitious in its reach, “After the Storm” is the acclaimed sequel to “The Storm” published after the financial crisis of 2008.  Having spent the last 5 years as Business Secretary within the Coalition Government (2010-2015), Vince has the added clout of first-hand experience introducing economic policies that have steered us out of the storm, not least an industrial strategy.

His professed motivation for penning a sequel were to update readers on the state of Britain’s economy in “a climate of guarded optimism,” and to share his insights, no longer bound by collective responsibility as Secretary of State at the Department of Business Innovation and Science.  Whilst the US and UK are expected to record 3% growth this year, Vince’s previous analysis of the underlying weaknesses still apply, such as UK’s over reliance on the banking sector and on the housing market for recovery and growth.

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Leaders good and bad

As we’re now seeing with Jeremy Corbyn’s election to the Labour leadership, political debate often revolves around the characters of party leaders. Elections are portrayed as contests between leaders, voters are often asked to say which leader they will be voting for – even though they can’t, unless they happen to live in a leader’s constituency – and the media, during elections, party conferences and day-to-day politics, generally focus on the leader, sometimes, in small parties, to the exclusion of all other figures. Within their parties, even in relatively democratic institutions like the Liberal Democrats, the leader exercises considerable influence over party policy and strategy.

British Leaders jackets.indd

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A great holiday read from the cheeky chappie of politics

alan johnson bookPlease Mister Postman by Alan Johnson is a great book to take on holiday with you, if you haven’t already read it. It’s now available in paperback, published by Corgi Books for a cover price of £8.99, although you can get it for less.

There are two types of memoirs by politicians: boring self-justification and interesting, good reads. Johnson’s writings are firmly in the second category, along there with Alan Clark, Chris Mullin and Paddy Ashdown (“A Fortunate Life”). Very often the early days of a politician are the most interesting – as was the case with John Major’s auto-biography.

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