Hodder Moa Beckett, $29.95,
ISBN 1 86958 442 2
Novelists who stray into politics often produce cardboard cutout conspiracies that treat power one-dimensionally. People knowledgeable about politics usually have too diminished an imagination and/or too distorted a comprehension of character to fictionalise — personalise — the intricate structures of power.
The Spin is a dual case in point. Its foreword proclaims it “an exercise in political science fiction”. But it is neither science nor properly fiction.
The point of an “Anonymous” novel on politics — if Primary Colours is a guide — is to portray real life politicos as if they are fictional people. That is, it fictionalises the fiction. Readers expect exciting frissons of recognition iced with intimacies that might just be true.
Spin has neither. The National Business Review unwittingly got it right when it wrote of identikit pictures, which it po-facedly tried to match to assorted names. The people in the spin are composites of the real things, heavily disguised with random brushstrokes. Brunettes are blondes; reporters swap mediums; the central figure is an amalgam of several in the present Prime Minister’s retinue; the bedding arrangements are mussed up.
The nearest to true life is the Jim Bolger figure, wily, tricky Conservative prime minister; but even there the reader has to fight through a thicket of obfuscations.
Yet the spin is on real-life pre-election New Zealand (despite foreword disclaimers). The story leaden-footedly limps through our recent present, devoid even of the imagination of a good Sunday political column. There is a Beehive, a Dockside, Paul Holmes (a pastiche of whom is not possible) and Tutaekuri (dogshit to the uninitiate).
For the metaphysics, put Simon (the PM’s chief of staff) with Murdoch (the Bolger-figure’s surname) and you get Simon Murdoch, real-life head of the Prime Minister’s Department. Then try the name “Freedom” on New Zealand First. This, to borrow a phrase from the real-life Mike Moore, is as good as it gets.
So this is not Primary Colours. Is it fun or fascinating? Not if you are looking for plot or writing. There is no satire, limited insight, little to learn and nothing to tickle. Just salacious salivations: did [famous woman journalist] really…? will [famous press secretary]…? Who cares?
Between these eruptions of male menopausal heavy breathing what you get is a ho-hum conspiracy (here we go again) in which the Peters figure gets swatted by the big boys because a money trail leads to big business. In real politics cockups are far more common than conspiracies — and far more believable, once you get to know who’s doing them.
In short, Spin is not politics but a lust story. The real spin is the one it put the chattering classes in.
Colin James writes on politics.