Act of revenge


Amanda Platell <em>Piatkus, 298pp, £5.99</em>

ISBN 0749931191

The only time I ever asked Amanda Platell about her politics was the only time, I think, that I have seen her blush. I didn't get a straight answer and, when she was subsequently appointed William Hague's spin-doctor (to much mirth among those who claimed to have heard her, not long before, expressing pro-European views), I didn't feel much wiser. But this book provides conclusive evidence.

Platell, I can reveal, is a Tory to the foundations of her lipstick. Her novel betrays a relentlessly bleak and cynical view of human nature. Its characters - nearly all of them journalists or executives on a big newspaper group - lie, cheat, threaten, swear, bribe, double-cross and blackmail their way through life. Like all villains, they can get sentimental over mothers or brothers; and they can be jolly kind if you're worried you've got breast cancer. But though Platell half-heartedly tries to plead a variety of unhappy childhoods in mitigation, this is a book of original sin.

Nobody acts for motives other than greed, fear or lust for power. (There are graphic examples of the other kind of lust but, for the most part, that comes strictly secondary to career advancement.) Even professed sympathy for Romanian orphans turns out to be a career move. Georgina, the heroine - and clearly the character with whom Platell most closely identifies - in the end behaves as badly as everyone else. After reading this book, you feel like taking a long, cold shower. After writing it, you would no doubt think that working with Conservatives was akin to working with angels.

This novel has the usual disclaimer that any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. And indeed it is true that one of the central figures, Douglas Holloway, chief executive of the Tribune Group, is a tall Canadian from Montreal and that Platell, on her journey through News International, the Mirror Group and Express Newspapers (she briefly edited both the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday Express), has never, so far as I know, had much to do with tall Canadians from Montreal. But "a cold man, harsh to the point of brutality, emotionless . . . with no discernible fat or muscle on his wire coat-hanger frame", who orders "a glass of still water, ice, no lemon" in a bar, who runs his newspaper group "with all the efficiency of a concentration camp" and who expounds a crazed vision of multimedia journalism, in which reporters file simultaneously to television, radio, broadsheet and tabloid - well, he sounds uncannily familiar to me.

Platell used to be my boss, being managing director of the Independent papers when I was editor of the Independent on Sunday. She taught me two things. One was how to write a business document ("you need bullet points, Peter, not prose"); the other was that, when driven to despair by the cynicism and brutality of internal newspaper politics, you should open a bottle of wine and laugh. I like to think of her writing this delicious and often hilarious act of revenge, giggling wickedly and knocking back the Sauvignon Blanc. Don't expect anything elegant or profound, but I recommend the result as a perfect antidote to the banal sentimentalities of Christmas.

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.