May 2014 whole TBRI’ve got a bit behind on my book reviewing – sorry! Lots of work, lots of sorting out, not so much reading time for a bit (which I have now addressed) and some pretty hefty books on the go have all conspired against me somewhat! So I’m still working my way through (slowly, to savour it) George Eliot’s “Adam Bede”, and you will read the first two reviews in my Reading About Iceland in May project, but for now we’ve got what should have been a firm favourite but wasn’t really, and what should have been heavy going, but wasn’t really. Intrigued? Read on. And no, this isn’t a natural pairing – that’s temporarily deserted me!

Fannie Flagg – “I Still Dream About You”

(14 September 2013 – BookCrossing)

I picked this one up from my friend Gill, who knows that I like this author’s books, after it had been donated for, but not taken at, a local festival where we have a free books stall every year. It was OK but not amazing – a bit predictable and a bit sappy.

Maggie is a former Miss Alabama now working in real estate. Her office is threatened by an unscrupulous rival, especially now their much-loved boss has passed away, but she thinks their troubles are over when she lands the contract for the sale of a big old mansion that she’s always loved. But that’s before all of the skeletons in the closet come tumbling out … some more literally than others.

It is lovely to read a book about Birmingham (AL) and the reflections on the city’s role in the struggles for equality in the 60s and 70s are interesting and well done. The characters of the office mates are also well-drawn, but the central story is a b it sappy for me, to be honest, as is the veneration of their late boss, tiny but miraculous Hazel.  So although there were some good twists and turns, as well as some laughs, it was ultimately a bit cloying for me.

John Major – “The Autobiography”

(19 August 2013, Arcadia Bookshop, Oxford)

This book was bought on the trip to Oxford detailed in this post. An excellent political autobiography that deserves its description as one of the best of the genre written in the 20th century. It’s very detailed and did take a long time to read (and I will admit to getting a big bogged down in all the mechanisms of the ERM) but very much worth it.

Major’s conservatism was of the socially responsible kind, in fact initiating many of the policies that New Labour took and ran with. He never forgot his own start in life and did seem to genuinely aim to lift people out of poverty, remove class distinctions and offer education of whatever kind people needed, while making public services more accountable (even if league tables obviously went a bit far in the end; he is clear-sighted on the propensity to ‘game’ these, however). He does make much of the fact that Blair decried his policies while in opposition then took them over when it power, with Blair even using pet words and phrases of Major’s in his own rallying calls, which seems a  bit much, really. Having said that, he does have a decent word for Blair’s support during the Northern Ireland peace negotiations and subsequent work on this area. He is also generous about other characters’ actions, e.g. Heseltine’s decency during the last leadership campaign Major fought.

Major’s prime ministership fell during an important time in my life, when I was getting interested in party politics and voting for the first time, so it was interesting to read about the background to some of those seminal events. He clarifies why he has been said to have done too little in Yugoslavia (letting the UN get on with it rather than wading in), and he does admit his mistakes, although I have to say here that he does  not mention his own contribution to the accusations of ‘sleaze’ levelled at the Tories after his ‘Back to Basics’ campaign, which was a bit disappointing. He’s very clear on Margaret Thatcher, both in power and after power, and quite scathing about her breaches of etiquette in openly talking about him and even campaigning against him – I had thought this would be more mealy-mouthed on that area. He paints amusing and affectionate portraits of his fellow politicians at home and abroad, and reprints his lovely eulogy for John Smith.

A humane and interesting book about a man who was perhaps more interesting than contemporary reports portrayed him. He seems to be a decent man who genuinely wanted to serve, and consulted his immediate family on the big political and career decisions. There’s an additional chapter in this edition which looks at ‘what next’ from 2000, which is a bit unnecessary now, as I don’t really remember the exact detail of what came true and what didn’t. But overall a fascinating and valuable read.

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Up next, reviews of a memoir and a novel about Iceland, and I might even finish “Adam Bede”. Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? What are you reading now?