Friday, 3 July 2009

Patrick Hannan: A Useful Fiction First Impressions

On Tuesday I finally received a promised review copy of Patrick Hannan's book A Useful Fiction: Adventures in British Democracy I was hoping it would live up to the adventure element of the sub-title. Well it certainly has in what I have read so far. Take the opening three paragraphs:
'If you want to find out what Britishness is there are some obvious places
to for an answer. Top of the list is the British, perhaps, is the British Council, the United Kingdom's leading cultural messenger abroad. If they don't know, who does? And who better to consult there than the chairman, Neil Kinnock, a man who over many years has been on a long journey around questions of national identity within Britain and outside it; forty years of travelling from denim-clad, red-haired, endlessly loquacious, Welsh scourge of the establishment to an unexpected terminus as the neatly-suited, bald-headed, ex-Eurocrat, the Rt. Hon. Lord Kinnock of Bedwelty. So I went to the council's offices in a street which, on the borders of the Mall, Whitehall and Trafalgar Square, is at what is more or less the centre of gravity of establishment Britain. In Kinnock's office on the sixth floor you felt you could almost lean out and touch the Houses of Parliament.

'As we drank tea I asked him: "What does the British Council say Britishness is?"

'His answer was unexpectedly succinct: "It never does."'
Well apart from throwing in a early reference to tea that Arthur Dent's creator would be proud of. The descriptive language of Baron Kinnock of Bedwelty's journey has indeed proved the sign of things to come. His later retelling of how he was corrected on the length of the Irish issue brought a smile to this Ulsterman. He also tells us that King Lear was a play about devolution. That even John Major's measure of Britishness was one he was born too late for. Plus points out that while marrying a Roman Catholic leads to forfeiture of your place in the line of succession there is nothing to prevent Prince William marrying a Muslim, Hindu or Scientologist and still eventually succeeding in the steps of his Grandmother up to the throne.
The themes that I've seen him explore thus far have been done with enough tongue in cheek to make valid points. Enough explanation so that people who aren't as anoraky as me can follow what he's saying.
I hope to finish the rest of the book over the weekend and give a full and proper review next week once I've completed it.
What I can say 5 chapters in is well worth a read.

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