Magazine article The Spectator

'Love, Sex and Other Foreign Policy Goals', by Jesse Armstrong - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Love, Sex and Other Foreign Policy Goals', by Jesse Armstrong - Review

Article excerpt

Love, Sex and Other Foreign Policy Goals Jesse Armstrong

Cape, pp.384, £12.99, ISBN: 9780224097345

Mrs Engels Gavin McCrea

Scribe, pp.240, £14.99, ISBN: 9781922247957

The Glorious Heresies Lisa McInerney

John Murray, pp.384, £16.99, ISBN: 9781444798852

As all writers know to their cost, first novels are never really first novels. They make their appearance after countless botched attempts at the perfect debut -- a debut that always lurks just out of view, but seems tantalisingly easy for everyone else. My first published novel was fifth down the line. It was a line of sad, self-obsessed and achingly self-conscious junk manuscripts that now gather dust in a filing system that has long since lost any recognisable methodology.

Jesse Armstrong, on the other hand, although making his debut in fiction with Love, Sex and Other Foreign Policy Goals, is no stranger to writing success. He already has a glittering career as co-author of Peep Show , The Thick of It, In the Loop and Four Lions under his belt. Most people would be satisfied with this, but Armstrong, like any writer worth his salt, has decided to try his hand at a novel. And very good it is too.

Not surprisingly, he has a real flair for comic dialogue. In his tale of the hapless and randy Andrew, a working-class boy who blags his way onto a Ford transit van full of good-hearted lefties on their way to solve the Bosnian war in 1994, he give us an updated version of Evelyn Waugh's Paul Pennyfeather from Decline and Fall.

Through Andrew's eyes, Armstrong dissects the well-meaning platitudes of the young, but still allows us to love them. Here is Andrew ruminating on how he got onto the peace bus in the first place:

Was the cellar in Munich full of men sloshing their steins and saying, 'Yeah sure, whatever, mate. What did he say? Yeah, the fucking Jews, he's right, you know, mine's another massive lager,' who were then very surprised to find themselves, a couple of years later, marching into the Sudetenland and Austria and Yugoslavia?

It's very funny and very dry -- a debut novel that will clearly be the first of many.

Friedrich Engels is viewed by many as the Boswell to Karl Marx's Dr Johnson. This is not quite fair, as from the beginning their friendship was very much a two-way street. …

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