Monday, June 21, 2010

Michael Dobbs' First Lady


Having watched House of Cards trilogy on DVD againly recently I decided I wanted to try some of Michael Dobbs' books. My wife bought me this for my birthday so I put aside my pile of worthy reading to plough into it.

The first thing to note is the excellent start to the book: two dead bodies and two affairs inside the first 10 pages. Dobbs hooks you in to the book quickly. The problem is then that he doesn't keep hold quite as well. In fact the opening is almost irrelevant beyond establishing the vacancy for the leader of the opposition.

The biggest problem is that everyone is a stereotype. Now this may have been true of House of Cards as well, but on TV they may have hidden it better. To give an example one character is a shop steward. He is Irish, called Pat and we meet him in a pub drinking Guinness and looking at the racing papers. He isn't alone in the stereotype stakes.

Looking at the acknowledgements this is more annoying because he clearly did some research to create some of the characters on parade.

One little annoyance is the nature of the unnamed opposition party. It doesn't fit with any of the parties perfectly, but to my jaundiced eye it is clearly Tory. However the leadership process is closer to the LibDems (a simple ballot of members), and the scandals are reminiscent of the 2006 LibDem leadership election. Except for the inclusion of a woman in the list of candidates. Given the publication dates I do wonder if poor Oaten was part of the inspiration! Dobbs has sensibly avoided naming the parties so he can do what he likes, which is fair enough, but noone old enough to vote today will have problems identifying who they are meant to be.

Another problem with the book is that everyone Gini meets by coincidence is (i) someone who matters and (ii) falls in love with her. I can forgive the first (why bother recording it otherwise), but the second is more problematic. It certainly isn't clear why some of the characters act as they do towards her. Also her sources of information are unconvincing, as his her mutation from the most innocent of innocents to Lady Macbeth.

The biggest issue is the prose which I felt had only one pace after the initial opening. It felt flat, but I couldn't quite identify why. It was easy to read though, which for a book like this is the main thing.

Overall I enjoyed it on a brain checked in at the door level. The plot is fun and I wanted to find out how the ending would be engineered. I still want to read the House of Cards books, but I do hope they are better than this silliness.

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