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5 September 2013updated 07 Sep 2021 11:46am

Review round up

The Critics' verdicts on Anna Whitelock, Harry Mount and Marcel Theroux.

By Critic

The Wit and Wisdom of Boris Johnson, edited by Harry Mount.

Elizabeth’s Bedfellows by Anna Whitelock:

A new book that goes behind the bedclothes of the life of the famous Tudor Queen, exploring some of the plots and conspiracies that enveloped Elizabeth’s life and meeting a selection of the 28 women who served in her private chambers.

As The Independent accurately concludes ‘sex sells’ though as Joy Lo Dico noted: “Elizabeth’s romantic adventures extended far beyond the bedchamber, into the popular pysche, and the inclusion of that could have lent some passion to an otherwise fairly dry history.”

John Gallagher writing for The Telegraph believes Whitelocks narrative to be slightly stilted “There are moments – when it becomes clear that for Elizabeth’s bedfellows, pillow talk and politics were inseparable, but an argument about the bedfellows’ place in wider Elizabethan affairs never quite comes together.

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Miranda Seymour writing for the Sunday Times is impressed with this ‘dazzling portrait of Mary’s successor’. “ Whitelock brings a fresh eye to the significance of anecdotes and, in doing so, injects them with new life … With this, she takes her place among the foremost – and most enthrallingly readable – historians of the Tudors.” 

Harry Mount’s breathless compilation of BoJo’s quips and pithy bits “has the full support of Boris Johnson,” according to the text preface.

Suzanne Moore of The Guardian makes no secret of her distaste for the enterprise, saying “the genre it most resembles is slash fiction … with Harry Mount as quivering fanboy.” Moore delivers a wickedly gleeful homily of the sexual, ethical and semantic misdeeds of Johnson (and Johnson’s johnson), pointing out the permeable veracity of his anecdotes, and concluding that  “ his book for all its pretence to literary cleverness is strictly for the lavatory.”

Andrew Gimson, in Conservative Home’s ToryDiary , takes a somewhat more balanced view, noting rightly that “there are not yet nearly as many books about Boris Johnson as about Napoleon Bonaparte or Winston Churchill, and it is likely there never will be.” Still and all, Gimson longs for a a ”post in some newly opened Department of Johnson Studies,” partially owing to this book’s revelation of Boris’ most surprising bon mots, including “I stood behind Posh in a ski queue and saw the tattoos on her bum. I like her.”

Meanwhile in The Spectator, Marcus Berkmann weighs the book’s prospects as political PR and as journalistic punditry, acknowledging the surefootedness of the former intent while exposing the haphazard algorithm for the latter; “the main lesson Boris has learned from P. G. Wodehouse: mix it all up (Latinate and Anglo-Saxon, formal English and schoolboy slang), bung it all in and see what happens.”

Strange Bodies, by Marcel Theroux

Theroux’ new metaphysical literary thriller garners a ave from Kate Saunders of The Times; the interplay between the plot, which Saunders describes as a “dangerous and bizarre conspiracy involving the 18th-century writer Dr Samuel Johnson,” and the digital-belletristic storytelling,  make for “a brilliantly imagined debate about the relationship between body and soul.”

The Independent’s Doug Johnstone is no less generous in his praise, and calls Strange Bodies an “expertly crafted novel, a book that is dripping in literary resonance, yet one that also rattles along in wonderful fashion.” Johnstone detects the influence of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Kazuo Ishiguro.

Justine Jordan for The Guardian  declines to spoil the plot, but alludes to the novel’s embrace of  “the history of Russian utopianism as well as the life of Dr Johnson to the juggernaut of his plot, moving from scruffy south London to gleaming modern Moscow, mental hospital to Kazakhstan compound.” The many moving parts work together; “the unfolding of the narrative is genuinely eerie,” she says, “but the richness of allusion and elegance of design make Strange Bodies as much an inquiry into language and identity as a high-concept literary thriller.”

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