Love's Labour Lost

By Sion, Simon | The Spectator, December 4, 1999 | Go to article overview

Love's Labour Lost


Sion, Simon, The Spectator


LABOUR OF LOVE

by Janet Jones

Politico's, L14.99, pp. 275

This book improves as it progresses, but it begins catastrophically. it is poorly written, poorly edited, childish in its analysis and shamefully self-serving in its very conception.

Janet Jones, the wife of Ivor Richard, until last year Leader of the House of Lords, is a teacher of English at a south London further education college, and a frustratedly unpublished author of children's books. She is proud of her pedagogic abilities, and scathing about poor standards in her son's primary school. Yet she writes, Me garage, who I gave up on ten days ago, are ready to take in my car.' Her propensity to use plural verbs with singular nouns, and vice versa, is fanatical: 'the government have been told'; 'there is wine and speeches and toasts and national anthems; 'the wine is brilliant and the food is not, but neither are helped. . .'; 'the union.did their stuff; 'Lambeth are withdrawing'.

These syntactical infelicities (to give Jones the benefit of considerable grammatical doubt) are compounded by other irritating habits, the worst of which is the Extravagant and Unnecessary Use of Capitals. I cannot decide whether the most ridiculous example is 'The dog is Not Very Well again' or 'Violetta's death is A Creation; Real Life Death cannot be A Creation.' It is also typical that she never lets the banality of her news or views prevent her from sharing them with us. Her diary resembles that of Adrian Mole, except that, not being intentionally satirical, there is little pleasure in reading it. Family and friends are referred to by irritatingly twee pet names: Jones the Books (her father, a don), Jones the Painter (mother), and so on. Sometimes this tedious practice is combined with the Capitals Fetish, as in 'Oldest Friend'. On other occasions, the Capitals Fetish combines with the Plurals Dementia: 'Very Senior Management have a Very Serious Problem.'

Towards the end of the diary, which begins in 1996 and closes when Lord Richard is sacked two years later, Oldest Friend, the young mother of young children, is killed in a freak accident. The sudden intrusion of tragedy into Jones' complacent world was so shocking that it made me physically start. The entries for the following week have an urgency that is otherwise absent. In this short but tremendously moving passage the prose suddenly becomes elegantly spare and there are No Capitals. The poetry is in the pity. Then she spoils it by concluding the chapter with the mawkish single line entry: 'There don't seem to be many jokes left in the world.'

Notwithstanding its unhappy instrumentation, the point of this book is for Jones to spill the beans on the Labour government of which her husband was briefly a member. But her project is undermined by two serious deficiencies. Firstly, she knows and understands so little about politics that her observations are platitudinous. One might have thought that to shine the plain light of an 'outsider's' gaze onto the murky waters of the real oldest profession would illuminate hitherto alien nooks. It is not so. Jones has outstandingly poor judgment, even in general matters.

She writes that 'in a battle of wills a sixyear-old can only lose in the end', which, as I thought everybody knew, is quite untrue. Before the election she deludedly considers the possibility that Richard might be made ambassador to the USA. The narrow parochialism of her verdict, 'I see no charm in that', is remarkable of itself, but she goes on, 'If I went too, it would cut William's and my lives in pieces: my job, his school, his friends, my friends, family, roots - you cannot put a life in a suitcase. …

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