Magazine article The Spectator

Too Many Doors and Corridors

Magazine article The Spectator

Too Many Doors and Corridors

Article excerpt

Too many doors and corridors A. A. Gill THE BLACK BOOK by Sara Keays

Doubleday, fl S.99, pp. 313 he chap in my local bookshop set out a pile of Sara Keays' first novel, The Black Book, between towers of Edna O'Brien and Beryl Bainbridge. `Bitter woman', he said. `Shame, a bitter woman.' There was no need to ask which one he meant. It is Sara Keays' lot to have been the recipient of one of the most distasteful and vituperative character assassinations in a spittle-flecked, gloves-off age. 'Bitter' was the sobriquet, rather than 'wronged'.

The scandal now seems an age ago. It belongs to another time. Remember those grainy, black-and-white, first-administration Tories - Neave, Nott, Joseph, weakly simpering Parkinson? They seem as distant and starchy and irrelevant today as Baldwin's cabinet. And think of all the scandal that has floated down the public gutter since - Diana, Camilla, Fergie, Norris, Mellor and all those three-in-a-bed, underthe-doctor Hampstead Heath sinners whose names escape in a crowd of shifty, tabloid faces. If the Keays/Parkinson pregnancy had become public last week, it would have been fighting for newsprint space with the crossword. Bitter? Sara Keays had every right to feel bitter, and as motivation for a roman a clef, bitterness isn't a bad place to start; it may be hell to live with, but bitterness and revenge read well on the page.

Happily for Miss Keays but unfortunately for The Black Book, there is precious little rancour or vitriol and the only character who appears to have been drawn from life is Miss Keays herself. If there are others, then the veils are too thickly woven for me. So readers hoping for the fury of the scorned will be disappointed. Which leaves us with a straightforward political thriller. Jo, a young army widow, joins the Chief Whip's office as a temporary secretary. She becomes increasingly alarmed at the cynicism and bullying of politics. Then, by chance, she discovers the apocryphal black book - the index of MPs' peccadillos and weaknesses that the whips use to keep order and fill the lobby. Horrified and disgusted, she decides that Something Must Be Done.

The doing of something is the bulk of the plot. There aren't enough twists to tie a shoe-lace. The thrills rely on the `will she, won't she?' be caught type. From the style and decently sensible moral set of the writing, the ending is never in doubt. …

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