Dec 2013 TBRYou know how I like to pair up my reviews and find a link between them … well, this first one was going to be a tricky task to pair with anything until I get to some more political biography in a few weeks’ time. But then I realised that both of these books go UNDERNEATH – a dissection of what goes on behind (or under) Blair’s smile, and a book about the London Underground! Phew – the pairs theme is saved. Maybe. Anyway, two very interesting recent reads for you here …

Leo Abse – “The Man Behind the Smile: Tony Blair and the Politics of Perversion”

(27 May 2013 – University of Birmingham)

Matthew spotted this book being given away by an academic who was leaving his department, and remembered that I’d previously read the author’s “Margaret, Daughter of Beatrice“, picking over Mrs Thatcher through the medium of Freudian analysis. This is another of Abse’s political/psychological unpickings, in which he delves into Tony Blair’s immediate family and his own activities, contrasting the true charisma of Gaitskell and Bevan’s hermaphroditism with Blair’s avoidant and consensus-seeking androgyny (just reporting what it says: don’t blame the reviewer!).

Lots about Blair’s immaturity, especially in the sexual sphere (perversion in this case being an avoidance of the mature relationship and obsession with some part of life, in his case returning to the womb through the vehicle of the rock guitar, his perennial placenta) (no, not making this up – the book’s available if you want to read it and check!). This is shown through the lens of his love of rock music into his 40s (shocker!) with mention of the womb-returning desires of Nirvana et al. providing a rather odd interlude in this book about politics).

It is interesting for the fact that Abse was wary of and critical of New Labour and Blair in particular (oh yes, there’s a fair bit about sibling rivalry and Gordon Brown, too), writing this in 1997, before most people got wary and critical. It goes off on fewer tangents than the Thatcher book, and is of interest, if not a keeper.

Andrew Martin – “Underground Overground”

(03 July 2013 – from Verity)

Accompanying the Boot Camp novel in a lovely parcel from my friend Verity, this was a sure-fire winner, and it’s another reason why I don’t do any best-of lists until the very end of the year! (This is also one of the reasons that I knew my Virago Group parcel was from the same person, as it included a book heavily quoted in this one!)

Subtitled “A Passenger’s History of the Tube”, this is indeed that (or a driver’s, or a Londoner’s, or an out-of-Londoner’s – there’s pleasure to be found for every reader in this book), an unofficial history, using a range of official, formal and informal sources to build up a real labour of love, charting the history and experience of the London underground from its first inception, including extra information on administration, design and – of course – maps. It’s carefully researched and packed full of fascinating details – I must have driven M to distraction reading bits out to him at least once per few pages!

As an ex-Londoner, I appreciated the details about my ‘own’ lines (and this led to an interesting discussion, M being a Metropolitan, Bakerloo and Central Line chap where I was all about the Northern Line, East London Line, Jubilee and District: I don’t think I’ve been on the Bakerloo more than a handful of times in my whole life). I loved the details about why the tunnel from Moorgate towards Finsbury Park is extra wide, and why it’s so difficult to navigate from Tube to Overground at Finsbury Park, and why the East London Line splits to New Cross and New Cross Gate. But it’s all here, from the early days of the Metropolitan Line to the fancy new Victoria (I didn’t know that one was so recent) and Jubilee Lines, and various extensions that have waxed and waned over the decades.

Both entertaining and informative, the author’s enthusiasm for his subject shines through but is tempered by good historical work and close attention to his sources. The illustrations are good – although it could do with an actual Tube map (however, it’s not like these are hard to find – how many do you have at your fingertips in the average household?). And, well, a highlight of the year!

Currently reading – I’m finding it very hard to tear myself away from Patrick Hamilton’s “The Slaves of Solitude”, which reads like it could be a Virago or Persephone, actually, and planning to finish “Iris Murdoch: Texts and Contexts”, which I appear to have been reading for EVER … What are you reading in these lovely cosy end-days of the year, when there’s often more time for curling up and relaxing with a book?