Boris Johnson is one of those people who hide a frighteningly acute mind behind a bumbling persona, and I get the impression that he knocked this book out over a long rainy weekend. The plot is flawed, the pace slackens in places and, on reflection, this is a piece of lighter than light fluff. I can understand why BJ would resist a stronger editorial hand, but the book suffers as a result.
But, by Heaven, its funny! Boris Johnson takes huge swipes at the world and his dog, including himself, but cleverly avoids taking sides. ON the other hand, like Dave Courtney, he can dress up discomforting ideas in hilarious language and make you laugh despite yourself.
A good way to spend a rainy afternoon.
on 7 September 2004
A witty and highly enjoyable romp through much that is wrong with how Britain works (or doesn't) today.
The plot revolves around a bicycling MP who's a bit hapless, but basically a decent sort of chap (where have we seen that before?); islamist terrorists; a stolen ambulance and a speech by the President of the United States (POTUS) in Westminster Hall. Just don't cheer too loudly when the parking attendant gets stabbed! It had to lose one star off the maximum, though, because of a rather cheesy plot device involving the terrorist's demands and the general public - I won't give it away, but you'll know it when you see it!
Regular readers of Boris's journalism will know what to expect. Readers who have previously been taken in by his highly cultivated "bumbling, public-school educated, bit of a thicko but basically decent chap" image will be pleasantly surprised!
on 21 September 2005
This is simply excellent. Boris Johnson's charmingly erratic personality shines through, making this book a delight to read.
But it's not laughs all the way - the subject matter is deadly serious, terrorism being something that the Western world has learnt to live with on a daily basis - and the author provides lucid, cogent and convincing arguments for questioning America's response to 9/11 and the country's treatment of terrorist suspects.
The characters are believable and convincing, and you do not need to peer too closely between the lines to discern the real identities of some of the principal players in this comedic masterpiece. The dialogue is deftly handled, descriptions are crisp and to the point, and overall the book works extremely well on several different levels.
More than a little reminiscent of Tom Sharpe at his best, this isn't laugh-out-loud funny, but you'll probably find yourself reading it with a smile on your face for most of the time.
on 17 June 2005
Having got about half way through Seventy Two Virgins I couldn't help feeling that although the narrative was "nice", that's all it was. What I mean by that is I didn't really see where the book was going, or more correctly, I didn't really care. So picture the scene, I have managed to get half way through of a book I am pretty nonplussed too, then it hits me. The story speeds up.
The second half of this book does occur at rather more pace and in my opinion is no bad thing! The carefully worded manuscript that has preceded it really does make a lot more sense once things to get going and you find yourself being glad that you carefully navigated your way through it.
The central characters are myriad and all take a central theme and different times during the book. This partly explains the length of time it takes to get going, there is a lot of background work to get through there! A Lebanon born, Wales educated soon to be terrorist going by the name of "Jones" is cooking up a dastardly cunning plan. As "Baldric" might once have said, it is more cunning than Mr Fox after advanced cunning lessons from the cunning University... Ok a slightly twee explanation but one not totally out of keeping with the book, in that it pokes no small amount of fun at what really is a comedy of errors.
The book isn't as predictably as one might have expected and doesn't take a moral high ground either way, it quite cleverly balances the seemingly reasonable demands of the terrorists with the abhorrence of seeking these outcomes through the means they employ.
I wont go on, but suffice to say I strongly recommend this book to you all, it is an excellent read and damn good fun!
on 21 October 2004
I've been ill this week and found this book a brilliant distraction. It takes place over the span of just a few hours during a terrorist seige, but those hours are action-packed. Somehow a grim concept has been made into a surprisingly non-bloody and very funny book. It is not a whit serious, so if you liked _Lend Me Your Ears_ more than you did _Friends, Voters, Countrymen_, this may not be for you.
If you've read a Carl Hiaasen novel, this has a similar flavour and pacing. There is a great deal of local colour, tidbits of history, details of the setting and traditions of Parliament, including some areas the public never see. None of that stops the action, but it does make everything feel more real. The main characters all mask various comic areas of incompetence or weakness, so you understand them instantly and mostly forgive them.
Some readers will have a bit of fun spotting minor celebs, mostly political, who have cameos in the story. Johnson has not given any space to people he genuinely dislikes; the PM is hardly in it! His version of George Bush, however, seems quite charitably smarter than the real thing. I also noticed a few bits of literary homage, including a Raymond Chandler line that never fails to bring a smile to my face.
The terrorists are largely cardboard cutouts, but one of them (based largely on Richard Reid, the shoe bomber) has more of a role to play, and by God you end up understanding him as well.
The only thing I didn't like about this book was a few Britishisms inserted in the mouths of American characters. This is easily overlooked, and in fact most readers probably won't notice. It's not enough of a problem to lose it any stars.
This is definitely a fluffy and fun book, and it was just the thing to read with a bout of bronchitis. I'd recommend it as a good choice of Christmas or beach reading and a decent gift. There is little in the way of heavy material, despite a recurring implication of marital cheating and a plot about terrorism.
Basically, you could feel safe giving this book to practically anyone. I already have a few recipients in mind.
on 8 April 2009
Classically constructed novel by the classically educated man, but don't let this put you off. This novel is a farce set in modern times, highlighting the ineptitude of government, authorities, systems and those se rely on for our safety. The characters are pastiches of the people we recognise in power, and surely a bicycling MP is a little too close to home for Mr Johnson.
There are parts of this that you will love - an ambulance being clamped by an over-zealous warden springs to mind. There are parts that plod a little, but the story turns a page and is off again. A great holiday read.
on 11 July 2006
On the evidence of Seventy Two Virgins, Boris Johnson would make a good novelist or a good Prime Minister - he would probably have to decide which. `Flawed genius' may be a bit rich but hints at the general impression.
The American President is due to address the UK Parliament in Westminster Hall and meanwhile a serious but badly planned bomb cum kidnapping venture is under way. It's set in 2004, after 9/11 but before 7/7. Things go awry on all fronts but Johnson presents the drama with considerable tension, great humour and an astonishing political sensibility. How could this man be a Conservative MP?
The book is slow to start. The entire story takes place in under 4 hours but the build-up to the drama takes half the space without much happening. There is also a great deal of gratuitous erudition: okay, Boris, we've got the point, you're an extremely clever bloke but when you're writing a story like this, you need to move like Archer!
The kidnapping attempt, when it comes, is taken with deadly seriousness and yet has some hilarious sections as the author (relevantly) attacks some random targets: the fast food industry, bureacrats, celebrity chefs, religious fanatics, misogynists and military maniacs in no particular order. The book is worth the money for the rant about the food industry alone.
I was kept guessing as to how the book would end, but when it did it was satisfying. And was it all an improbable farrago?
I leave you with the author's last words:
-The only implausibility in this story is to imagine that (the kidnappers) could for a moment elude the police who guard the Palace of Westminster with such vigilance, tact and kindness.-
on 19 May 2016
Brilliant. I had no idea that Mr Johnson was such a good author and genuinely funny man. There is something of the Tom Sharpe about this book. I was laughing out loud on the train which is something I have not done since the 80s reading Tom Sharpe! Excellent.
on 5 January 2015
In another review it was said that Seventy two Virgins was similar to Tom Sharpe's books, I think this is true, but is quietly amusing rather than laugh out loud funny. Gives a very good insiders description of the interior of the places mentioned, and knowledgeable about the people involved and their background. All in all a good read!
on 12 November 2011
I enjoyed this novel,at first I found it quite hard to get into,but the effort was worth it. I have to admit there were many words I needed to look up,and struggled to pronounce them, and his classical background came into play against my non existent classical background. The story is a good read, and Boris has obviously done his research.It does read like a person who knows his way around Westminster,and the enjoyable part was trying to guess who hewas depicting in his many characters that appeared in the book,a few were guessable, but some were not possible,perhaps they are figments of his imagination, and not based on anyone.
Worth reading to see another side to the MP and mayor of London.now can be added author.