Sunday, October 14, 2007

Ogden Nash


Robert Harris’s last two books have been set in Ancient Rome but his latest work The Ghost is set very much in the here and now, and mainly located in Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Cape Cod on the US eastern seaboard.

This book is a very slick political thriller, and a gripping read. The story is of a professional ghost-writer who is hired by a big publishing house to take on the memoirs of a British Prime Minister who has recently left office having become unstuck as a result of his policies in the Middle East. These have embroiled Britain – together with the USA - in a War on Terror, not to mention a real conflict in Iraq. Now, does that remind you of anyone in particular?

The ghost writer is flown out to Martha’s Vineyard where Adam Lang, the ex-PM, and his entourage are holed up on the isolated estate owned by the chairman of the publishing firm who have paid a £10 million advance for the memoirs. He takes over the rough manuscript of the memoirs produced by a former aide of the PM who has died recently, and tries to get to grips with the character and thinking of Lang, but as he says “I realised I had a fundamental problem with our former prime minister. He was not a psychologically credible character. In the flesh, playing the part of a statesman, he seemed to have a strong personality. But somehow, when one sat down to think about him, he vanished.”...hmmm, that strikes a chord doesn't it?

Lang’s wife, Ruth, is a strong character, “everyone had said she was smarter than her husband, and that she’d loved their life at the top even more than he had. If there was an official visit to some foreign country, she usually went with him: she refused to be left at home. You only had to watch them on TV together to see how she bathed in his success.”

A set of events ensues which makes The Ghost realise he is swimming in deeper, murkier waters than he had anticipated, and after many clever twists the book ends with a stunning revelation. It would be rotten of me to reveal anything more of the plot, but suffice to say, anyone who is even slightly interested in British politics over the past ten years will find this a delicious, malicious tale, and a real page-turner. It has best-seller written all over it, and no doubt a film or TV version will follow ere long.

Rated 4.5*


The point of an inquest is to determine how an individual died, but in the case of the late Princess Diana we know how she died, in a car crash in Paris when the vehicle she was travelling in was going too fast, she was not wearing a seat belt, and the driver was –according to the French Police who conducted an inquiry – well over the legal drink-drive limit.

So what is this inquest, 10 years after her death, for? It seems to be to squash, once and for all, the claim that she was murdered as Mohammed Al Fayed, father of her lover Dodi Fayed who also died in the crash, has stated to anyone and everyone who will listen - particularly if they have a TV camera with them.

The whole thing strikes me as a completely unnecessary charade, and a charade that is costing us taxpayers a hell of a lot of money (estimates run from £10 million upwards). I, and probably thousands of others, am utterly fed up with the whole business, and god knows what Diana's sons must think about it.

It seems grubby and prurient for people to be poking through aspects of her life that should be private – every tabloid announcing that she was on the pill and therefore couldn’t be pregnant; jurors, lawyers and court officials being shown paparazzi photos taken of her when she lay dying; speculation that a ring ordered by Dodi meant she was engaged to be married to him (even if she was, it seems bloody far fetched to decide to kill both of them).

There has already been an independent UK inquiry held by Lord Stevens, which took 3 years to complete and cost the taxpayers £3.69 million, but Mohammed Al Fayed wasn’t happy with the conclusion which said that there was no conspiracy and it was just a ghastly accident.

Unless the coroner Lord Justice Scott Baker announces at the end of the inquest that the Royal Family are personally responsible, and the police rush to arrest the Duke of Edinburgh, Al Fayed still won’t be happy. He is an angry and embittered man whose ambitious plans for his much loved son ended when the couple were killed, and he has spent a fortune trying to convince everyone who will listen of his paranoid theories.

As with Kennedy’s assassination, there will always be people who have far fetched views that she was eliminated. Let them have them. The poor woman is dead and buried. Can we please move on. I can't stand the thought that tomorrow morning this whole ghastly business will be all over the media again, and again, and again , until next weekend; and its estimated that the inquest will continue for six months. Aaagh!


The other evening I had two extra for supper rather unexpectedly, and though it was easy enough to stretch the pasta which the DH and I were going to have, the meal seemed a little insubstantial. In such situations what I try to do is rustle up a starter course (not something I would normally bother with for just the two of us). This Tuscan recipe is one of my favourite standby starters, as I nearly always have the ingredients to hand in the kitchen store cupboard. It goes down equally well in winter or summer, and is super simple.

TONNO E FAGIOLI (Tuna and bean salad)

Serves 4

2x 400g tins Borlotti beans
1 tin good quality tuna in olive oil,
1 medium red onion
Juice of half a lemon
Olive oil,
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley

Drain the tins of beans, tip them into a sieve and rinse briefly under cold water, shake off excess water and allow to drip dry.

Open and drain the tin of tuna, and flake the tuna into a bowl.

Peel the red onion and cut it in half lengthwise. Finely slice each half, and separate the rings.

Tip the beans into a bowl, season with salt and pepper and the lemon juice and a good glug of olive oil to dress the beans. Mix gently.

Divide the beans between four serving plates and then divide the tuna flakes and onion between the plates, spooning them carefully over the beans, garnish with the chopped parsley.

Serve with crusty warm Ciabatta bread.


Charlotte said...

I have just this minute finished The Ghost and I can't agree with you more: it's a slick and meticulous thriller. Robert Harris is a master. You're right, it will definitely be made into a film.

african vanielje said...

Guess what we had for dinner last night. One of my many versions of tuna and beans. Thanks for leaving a comment on my post. I love that. It means I et to discover great blogs I would never otherwise have seen. I've just been trawling through your books and rants (and recipes) and finding myself nodding, snickering, agreeing. Great stuff. I've got to give the ghost a read,

Around My Kitchen Table said...

I do so agree with your Princess Diana rant. I know intelligent people who are convinced she was murdered. I point out that if you are going to kill someone, engineering a car crash is just about the most inefficient way of doing it. In fact, had she been wearing a seat-belt she would probably still be alive. There are so many imponderables in the scenario - how do you force someone to drive at breakneck speeds; how can you be sure that even if the car is going that fast, it will crash; if it does crash, how do you know the people inside will die? Sadly, a drunk driver was driving like a maniac in a tunnel. Case closed.

Jeanne said...

The whole Diana thing is just distasteful - the public has no interest whatsoever in knowing whether she was/wasn't pregnant/engaged or anything else, and they certainly don't need to see photos of her dying moments. How would people like it if their relatives' dying moments were displayed for all to see? What must her sons think. It's an appalling waste of our money as taxpayers. Full marks for your rant!

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