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Great research, but not a 'biography with a gripping narrative'
on 25 April 2016
This is a fantastic bit of research into ‘Thatcheriana’ – sadly, it is not a great read.
If you want an informative read, then read her own autobiography. If you want to read a great book, Hugo Young’s contemporary biography is a classic in how to write a biography. If you want a quick read, there’s a host of journalistic books on her life. The most fun read is Carol Thatcher’s ‘Under the Parapet’ biography of her Dad.
Charles Moore is a very successful journalist, and as such, a good wordsmith. On top of that, he has done a phenomenal amount of research (80 interviews in the US alone for the two volumes were carried out by his US assistant, himself carrying out hundreds of interviews with new insights from all the key players you could wish for, and he has clearly worked through paperwork, in the style of the subject of the biography). Sadly, this is not a biography with a gripping narrative, though the research material is there.
It is an excellent reference book, and my guess is for this reason it will stand the test of time. Advice to the reader – flick through the bits that bore you. He has left out the majority of his research, as a good journalist is trained to, but the book is still far too long (or too short if readers are looking for a full five volume account of her life).
Like any excited journalist with new material, the writer cannot resist using too much of it. In comparison to the vast wealth of publicly available printed material on Thatcher, the letters she wrote to her sister are a treasure trove of new material. We see too much of it. Similarly, his access to her Private Secretaries gives a very detailed Private Secretary view of a series of detailed meetings when the outcomes and what the agreed policies tell us about Mrs T are what we want to read in a biography.
As perhaps the most ‘marmite’ figure in post War UK, the writer’s Thatcher worship can be difficult for the somewhat less enthused reader. He may think she was beautiful, and obviously her pre-marriage boyfriends (here, new information is given just the right amount of detail in an interesting biographical way) would no doubt share his view, but this is certainly not a consensus view. Striking, yes. The only women, frequently interestingly attired, in a room full of grey suits, yes. The object of passion for many Tory back-benchers and the military (especially later on), yes. A female Cecil Parkinson? This surely a subjective view of an admiring biographer.
It is very difficult to write a biography of such a towering figure that appeals firstly to readers who ‘weren’t there’ wanting to find out about the history of the period, secondly to Thatcher lovers and also to the curious who simply lived through Thatcherism and want to know more. Perhaps the author did too much research and got simply exhausted when it came to the difficult bit of writing it all up.
I did not expect to begin reading ‘anti-Thatcher’ and end up ‘pro-’, but I did expect insight, and, more than that, I expected a new emotional relationship with the subject of this book which, after reading it I failed to get I am afraid.
(I feel terrible writing this, as you can feel the blood, sweat and tears that has gone into writing it, and his love for both the project and subject, as you read the extensive notes about writing it and the bibliography).