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on 23 November 2017
Probably the most boring book I've had the misfortune to purchase from Amazon for many a year. Gave up a third of the way through - where on earth the rave reviews have come from is a mystery. As to the title"Things Can Only Get Better", that certainly doesn't apply to the book - if anything, it gets even more boring as you plough your way through it.. Ah well, that's a fiver gone up in smoke.
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on 7 September 2017
Clever use of self deprecating humour by a Labour activist analyses those wretched wilderness years of the hectoring Thatch and gives us a laugh at something which did not seem funny at the time.
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on 1 November 2016
Brilliant book! John O'Farrell has managed to reflect on how he handled those 18 miserable years with great tenacity and perseverance yet somehow bring out terrific humour. Great balance between the two. Would highly recommend it!
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on 13 October 2017
Great book for anyone living through this period. You can really feel John O Farrell's pain and anguish after every labour election defeat. Brings back lots of memories and is very assuming. Full of Johns dilemmas and contradictions as he goes through middle age.
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on 1 November 2017
like this one
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on 27 June 2016
I'm just reading this book for about the hundredth time, and it's still making me laugh out loud. I can't recommend it enough to anyone confused, dismayed or appalled by the quacks, flaneurs and narcissists that dominate today's British politics.
A Labour activist's autobiography set in eighties Britain can have only one backdrop - and O'Farrell's accounts of injustice and social inequality are serious and vivid - but he also describes the indefatigable grass roots idealism and tenacity of his younger self with wit, modesty and unsentimental wistfulness. His stories will remind many people of the donkey-jacketed young optimists they may once have been - or at least known.
There are lots and lots of gags - good ones - but this book is most priceless, timeless and compelling when O'Farrell expresses his lifelong beliefs in social justice and fairness, and his passionate longing for an inclusive and just society that always seems to be somehow out of reach.
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on 21 October 2001
Any Guardian reader will be familiar with O'Farrell's style from his Saturday column, which is quietly intelligent and simply loaded with great gags, almost literally one per sentence. A collection of those, in fact, is avaiable under the compiled title Global Village Idiot (referring I think to the esteemed President). Here, though, he reflects on - well - eighteen miserable years in the life of a Labour supporter from 1979 to 1997.
It's superbly entertaining and also instructive for anyone like me who was born in the early 70s and wasn't much interested in politics until post-Thatcher. Brought up in a home where the only source of political punditry was the Daily Express (now a New Labour cheerleader, but then the paramilitary wing of the Daily Mail), I really believed all those stories about Loony Left Councils and the disasters of the Callaghan government. O'Farrell provides a refreshing alternative view, albeit 20 years too late.
He's not blindly vain for the Labour cause, though, and readily accepts the terrible suicidal state the party found itself in during the early 1980s, and the 1983 manifesto later described as "longest suicide note in history". On the election of Michael Foot as leader, he recalls: "When his ascension was confirmed in a second ballot, my fellow students and I drank a happy toast to this victory for socialism. I looked across to the Tory students on the other side of the university bar and they seemed to be celebrating something too." This has two parallels for today's reader: first it reminds us of the terrible suicidal state that the Conservative party finds itself in today, and secondly in the dismissal of a new leader we recall (as O'Farrell reminds us elsewhere) how Margaret Thatcher was ridiculed by the left when she was elected leader, and how wrong they were to do so. "Tory leaders always seem to come out of nowhere," says O'Farrell.
The most refreshing thing about the book though is that occasionally he pauses the jokes and, more or less involuntarily one suspects, wails about how anyone could possibly consider the Tories a force for good, and reminds us of how all the positive social changes of the 20th century came from the liberal left. This passion for the third way may seem mediocre at times - and he's certainly no radical compared to the Guardian columnist he replaced, Jeremy Hardy, who regularly made me feel like a swivel-eyed fascist bigot - but it's honest and, tempered with his keen wit, it makes me say: John O'Farrell for next Labour Leader but one!
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on 24 March 2008
Occasionally I see someone on the tube reading this book and I always feel envious that I no longer have the opportunity to read this book for the the first time again. I am of the same (general) age as O'Farrell so I am not sure that people in their twenties who don't remember Maggie T would get as much out of it as those of us who lived through the era O'Farrell describes but nevertheless I am confident that what they DO get out of it is more than they will get from most books out there on the shelves. As an utter cynicist who cannot see organised Labour (either the Old or New incarnation) through the rose-tinted glow as often does O'Farrell, I nevertheless acknowledge him as one of the finest humorists of his generation and I salute him! This book was a landmark for me as a review of the world in which I grew up and also restoring my faith in the power of the written word to make me laugh out loud in public.
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on 14 August 2009
This book is a reminder for all those of us who hated the successive Conservative governments from 1979 - 1997 of how bad things were in the Labour party through much of that period and why such a radical change in the party's ideology was required to make it electable. O'Farrell's deadpan despondency allows the self-deprecating humour in the book to balance what is otherwise a pretty depressing tale (at least for Labour supporters). Being an apparent contemporary of O'Farrell this book resonated with me from first page to last, a reminder of how grim life really was under Thatcher as the cult of the individual replaced the common good of society. It won't appeal to everyone but for those with an eye to history, including social history and particularly that peculiar British trait of making fun of bad situations, there is much to recommend this book.
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VINE VOICEon 24 June 2011
Although this book is from the perspective of a hardcore Labour activist (he was even went vegetarian for the cause), its humour and humanity make it an enjoyable read. Even when stating his most left-wing of left-wing opinions, O'Farrell still comes across as a decent, genuine guy and it's often easy to read some of it without the penny dropping for a few pages (e.g. about how Labour people are often nicer than Conservatives).

Even up until the very end, where he talks about Labour's monumental 1997 victory, you can fully empathise and laugh along with the author.

And although Labour, like the Tories, have faded from glory with the years of government, this book has lost none of its power. Though comedy ages like cream, somehow the jokes still seem fresh despite the aged subject matter.

So, I'm in the ironic position of recommending a Labour activist's book as a Conservative activist!
Maybe one day Boris Johnson or William Hague will write their humourous memoirs. Somehow, though, I think they will struggle to out-do the trajedy, comedy but, most of all, the joyous energy of this book.
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