What’s not to enjoy with Andrew Marr’s second novel, Children of the Master [London: Fourth Estate, 2015] The laddie’s book’s a richt stotter! Jings, whaur tae stairt? Granted Scots will have a slight edge of extra enjoyment reading some parts of it, but every Sassenach should read it too. There are two central characters and one, Davie Petrie lives in Smeddum, a suburb of the Ayrshire town of Glaikit, but much of the action takes place in and around Westminster as two potential successors to a future Labour Prime Minister, rise swiftly to the front bench but only one can have the top job.
When he actually wrote this is an interesting question because it was published a year before the EU Referendum and correctly presumes the outcome. Given Marr’s track record as a political journalist and his witty and pithy commentary on all its aspects, you can just about hear him narrating the novel. It opens with a teaser chapter that is set in time nearer the end of the saga and lays down clues for us to follow up as we read. There is this mysterious and amoral character known as the Master who is a former Labour Prime Minister and is now behind the scenes pulling strings, calling in favours and manipulating events but (perhaps after sound legal advice) he is clearly fictional and both Caroline Phillips, the English rising star, and Petrie tend to do his bidding. His demands are outrageous and clearly undemocratic but the central premiss of the novel is that, at least in this book, that’s what political life is like. Political dogs are amoral, opportunist cannibals.
When the Master and his supporters identify a promising candidate for Parliament, they want to know if he or she is fit enough, literally.
You need to be a good sleeper. You don’t have to have a clear conscience, but you do have to be able to put it to one side. You need to eat well, and have no more than one or two drinks a day. You need energy, strength, oomph. Forgive me, but you need to be able to crap regularly. More politicians have been pulled down by irregular bowel habits and poor sleeping patterns, just being a bit pasty and weary, than by all the clever ploys of their enemies. So I need to know you inside out. Are you clean, man? Are you strong? What’s behind that shiny pink face?
And talk about devious! Caroline has learned that the retiring Labour MP was hugely unpopular within his constituency but travelling up by train to the selection meeting with her rival candidates she tells them she simply plans to say she would aim to be an MP just like him. Her rivals, speaking first, swallow the bait and all praise the late MP but Caroline then slates him and tells her audience she will be completely different. She is the one selected. But that is only mildly devious compared with what is to come. With the occasional exception of Davie, no one seems to have any residual loyalty, being ready to deceive, betray and destroy as the situation requires. But one betrayal provokes a reaction this reader did not see coming and took his breath away. No clues; but it is well worth waiting for.
A final point to make: As you’d expect from Marr, as well as being witty and cynical, the book is often very funny. He could probably earn a good living as a stand-up. Buy it, read it and then give to others for Christmas!