If I were pitching this book in Hollywood, I might describe it as a mashup of “Wag the Dog” and the British version of “House of Cards.” This expertly crafted novel is a blend of absurd political satire and self-centered politics at its nastiest. The result is glorious.
Step forward to 2017, when Great Britain is sharply divided over whether to withdraw from the European Union or stay the course. It’s three days before the referendum that will make this historic decision — and the immensely popular Prime Minister, who supports the European connection, slumps over at his desk, dead.
What to do? If word gets out, the fateful decision will surely go against the government. How can the Prime Minister’s body even be hidden from the public? No worries. His faithful staff will solve the problem adroitly, with the help of a shadowy figure named Alois Haydn from the world of political PR who is a legendary expert in crisis management (though virtually unknown to the public). But can the man be trusted? Therein lies the rub.
Head of State by Andrew Marr ★★★★☆
A Keystone Kops-like series of events ensues, rife with confusion, murder, betrayal, love both requited and un, and political espionage. The narrative jumps from one day to the next, then back a day or two before moving forward in time again, giving rise to a mind-bending series of revelations. It’s a grand old mess, and extremely funny.
If there’s any point to all these shenanigans, it might be summed up in a monologue by Haydn that includes the following verdict: “The British think they’re democrats. But they’re only shoppers. They don’t vote very much, and they don’t think very much, either. Here the only people who count are the very rich, the people who can buy football teams and private jets and flash penthouses on the Thames.” Is that cynical enough for you?
About the author
The author, Andrew Marr, is in his own right a force to be reckoned with in British politics. He is best known for his Sunday-morning political interview show on BBC-TV and his Monday-morning show on BBC Radio, but he has written — and broadcast — several popular histories of Britain and the world as a whole. Previously, he was also editor of the Independent newspaper and political editor of the BBC. Head of State is his first novel.
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