Archive for November, 2013

November 17, 2013

Live From Downing Street: Nick Robinson

by Andre

Updated paperback out now – £8.99

Nick Robinson LIVE FROM DOWNING STREETThe BBC political editor is one of TV’s most familiar faces – and one of the most annoying if you accept Alastair Campbell’s assessment of Nick Robinson (“a jerk”). Well, I’d rather read Robinson’s engaging, witty history and insightful memoir than Campbell’s obsessive, late-night scribbling. It’s not an autobiography but it does begin – after a perfectly worthy, BBC-style introduction – with a revealing chapter on his youthful fascination with current affairs (Today presenter Brian Redhead was a neighbour) and his dogged research as BBC producer for a Dimbleby. Even when he switches to reporting, Robinson still seems to write a lot of memos and happily describes himself as a “pointy head” in contrast to BBC Rottweiler interviewers (Paxman, Humphrys, Neil).

Nevertheless, he’s a tenacious reporter who was bloodied early in the Blair years when, he claims, Mandelson tried to get him sacked, as well as being – for the most part – a staunch defender of his trade. While he acknowledges the soundbite culture’s gone too far, he reminds us of Draconian restrictions on reporting parliament from the 1600s to the 1950s. Politicians wouldn’t even deign to be interviewed. (In 1955, Clement Attlee was asked if there was “anything else you’d care to say about the coming election?” His answer in full: “No.”)

Robinson draws perfect sketches of the political pas de deux between each prime minister and the Beeb. Churchill loathed the BBC, which had (wrongly) denied him a platform in the 1930s; Wilson was a paranoiac who preferred ITV; Thatcher was positively hostile. He gets angry about propaganda during the Falklands War and regrets his failure to give Robin Cook’s opposition to the Iraq war airtime when employed by ITV (Robinson avoided the Blair-BBC death duel). Of course, this impartial correspondent’s candour becomes cloudier the closer he gets to the present but his profound questions about the future shape of British broadcasting make this essential reading for students of politics and the media.

November 7, 2013

Happy birthday, Albert Camus

by Andre

Albert Camus PenguinToday we’re celebrating the centenary of Albert Camus (born 7 Nov 1913), a writer whose sense of the absurd has only grown in relevance since his death in 1960, while other thinkers and philosophers have waned in terms of their influence. Even if you’re already familiar with his classic The Outsider, there are plenty of other Camus-related titles in stock with which to mark the occasion. We’ve got Penguin’s centenary publication of a brace of Camus essays in The Sea Close By (£1.99 – find it on the Riverside counter); The Boxer v The Goalkeeper: Sartre vs Camus by Andy Martin, an investigation into the feuding French thinkers; and there’s Penguin’s Great Ideas series of £4.99 titles including Camus essays The Myth of Sisyphus and Fastidious Assassins. And, of course, we’ll have The Outsider and The Plague in stock until 2113 if we possibly can.

November 3, 2013

Doctor Sleep: Stephen King

by Andre

Stephen King DOCTOR SLEEPGiven the trend for profitable literary sequels – the oddest of which has to be a follow-up to The Woman in Black that isn’t written by Susan Hill – the watchful reader approaches Doctor Sleep with caution. At least Stephen King’s penned his own sequel to The Shining, his 1977 novel about a booze-soaked family nightmare among the ghostly guests in the Overlook Hotel that is perhaps his most terrifying and affecting book.

Still smarting from the movie version 33 years on, King reclaims the characters for his sequel. Quite right, too, because Stanley Kubrick’s butchery (in every sense) of Dick Hallorann, a key character in the book, was unforgivable. So it was heartening to encounter the Overlook chef, who shared the young Danny Torrance’s psychic abilities, in the first few pages of Doctor Sleep. The familiar King tropes are also present and correct: an astute portrayal of small town America, an old-fashioned notion of good and evil, and the terrors of childhood playing out in grown-ups. For Torrance, that fear is accentuated by the gift of the Shining – he sees ghosts, as well as flies on the faces of those stalked by death – and it’s led him into alcoholism just like his father.

King draws on his own experience of Alcoholics Anonymous and he’s good on the psychological baggage sons inherit from fathers. Most of all, he’s a master of terror – both subtle chills and all-consuming horror – as he pits Dan and a psychic schoolgirl protégé against a community of peripatetic vampires who feed off the essence of dying children touched by the Shining. There are pleasing allusions to another King classic and even his son Joe Hill’s latest novel, NOS4R2; plenty of revelations for fans of the original; and there’s a cat that may have a touch of the Shining too. Every good horror novel needs a cat. And Doctor Sleep is a very good horror novel indeed – perhaps King’s finest work in the genre since Misery.