Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

A Laboured Death

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

A Laboured Death

Article excerpt

A SYMPATHETIC HANGING Nigel Farndale Quartet, 240pp, [pound]10 [pound]8 at www.newstatesman.co.uk (+15% p&p)

The recent auction of puppets from the Spitting Image TV series was a poignant reminder of the death of political satire in Britain. Faced with the vagaries of a "Third Way" and the unwillingness of political leaders to stand up for anything in particular, the satirists of high politics have very little to go on, their task being reduced to a mundane play on funny faces.

This vacuum at the heart of the genre might explain why Nigel Farndale's novel falls at its first hurdle. A Sympathetic Hanging is sold as a "bitingly satirical" analysis of contemporary politics, but it stubbornly refuses to be anything of the sort. Set a couple of years into the future, it opens with the assassination of a popular new Labour prime minister, and follows the high-profile journalist Michael Yates as he drifts on the margins of a murky plot to overthrow the government. The text is peppered with sardonic sideswipes, which are neither edgy nor original enough to score any points: England, we learn, has become an autonomous region in a European superstate; the state opening of parliament is sponsored by Nescafe; the pop star Mick Hucknall has been made a peer. A scurrilous portrait of the mincing new Minister for European Affairs -- a thinly veiled Peter Mandelson -- falls flat, largely because there is little of any substance to mock in the first place.

Still, there is much else to like about the book. …

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