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on 30 October 2002
Matthew Parris does not like himself! He tells us this again and again. However, anyone reading this wonderful book will certainly say he is being too hard on himself.
This Autobiography has obviously been difficult for Mr Parris to write - there are many times when he does not like what he has done over the years. However, many are his real achievements and I salute him for both his patent honesty and his determination. We find out a lot about the man, and also the many intriguing characters he has met and worked with throughout his career in Parliament and the media.
I have always admired his commons sketches but this book moves to a new level.
I could not put this book down and finished it in a couple of days.
I hope that there will be a second volume. soon.
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on 11 February 2004
Matthew Parris is a notable journalist in the field of politics and, having been an MP himself at one time, loves to write in detail about the Parliamentary world. Much like his newspaper articles, this biography is written with an elegant, fluid and highly readable prose style that really captures it's author's personality.
The early section about Matthew's happy but highly unusual childhood travelling across Rhodesia, Swaziland and Jamaica, is well written but it would be better suited as backup to his travel books, and is not nearly as good as what follows.
When Matthew lands in England to go to Cambridge University, then his book really takes off. Matthew's highly cynical, but humourously realistic take on the British institutions he encounters (Cambridge, the Foreign Office and eventually the House of Commons) is very enlightening and he writes in such a way you can't help but agree with him.
Matthew is also well-placed to comment on several popular politicians of recent years including Michael Portillo and John Patten. He may have remained merely a backbench MP but he got to know Margaret Thatcher very well when she was in office, and he manages to capture in his own way her many strengths and flaws, building a very complete picture of this most domineering of politicians.
His opinion of John Major is equally good, as he describes the various subtleties that lay behind his "boring" image and shows the man to be a much stronger character than he was often perceived in his time. His opinion of Tony Blair is also very well written. Matthew spotted far earlier than most of us the flaws of our current Prime Minister, a charismatic figure with an excellent grasp of oral rhetoric who was (and still is in many ways) American-influenced in his speeches and politics, with a shallow grasp of policies and detail.
At the same time, Matthew shows himself to be slightly eccentric, bumbling to a degree and insecure almost to the point of madness. His homosexuality is revealed to be a large factor in this, and the sections on Clapham Common as well his Newsnight encounter capture this very well.
A highly perceptive and readable biography. Well worth a look.
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on 19 October 2002
This wonderful book is not so much an autobiography as apologia - an apology, that is, in the old sense of humble self-justification.
Anyone who has read anything by Matthew Parris, and particularly his much-missed parliamentary sketches in The Times, will know that he has no need of justifying himself to us; his humility, though admirable and genuine, is belied by the scale of his achievement.
Nobody has written more brilliantly about politics since George Orwell. Parris and the author of 'Animal Farm' are, you might think, a pretty unlikely pairing. Despite his travelling and global perspective, Parris does not apparently have the radicalism of Orwell; Orwell was not so skilful an observer of personality as Parris. What they share is what Orwell once called, in a poem, 'the crystal spirit' - humanity, honesty and a hatred of humbug, all manifesting themselves in prose of luminous simplicity.
Yet Parris agrees with Peter Ackroyd's assessment: that he, Parris, has 'no talent', and has thrived only as a commentator, a 'chance witness'. He laments, in his final chapter, that he has never done anything original: 'If in my life I had been able to think up just one important thing...then I could be happy in anonymity'. The originality of his work is open to debate - that of his life is not. If this lack of originality he claims has helped to produce some of the stuff he describes in this book, I say hurrah for that.
Near the end, he moves from apologia to apology, regretting that he finds little room to describe his travels, his family history beyond childhood, and, most intriguingly, his pet llamas. I regret this too. I only hope he makes amends as soon as possible with a second volume.
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on 21 September 2015
I bought this book because I have always liked Matthew Parris. I hoped to be entertained: I was. He is funny, engaging, wicked, compassionate, the list is endless. He also gives self-effacement a new creed. It is clear that he struggled to find his metier in life but he seems comfortable in his role as one of the country's best observers and reporters. The autobiography is well written and has pace, and he is completely honest and candid about his life so far with all its twists and turns. Matthew Parris is a good man.
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on 21 October 2002
Anyone who has read a Parliamentary sketch by Matthew Parris will know he style is both engaging and entertaining. His autobiography is the same as he gives you glimpses of the workings of government as well as nuggets of gossip to digest and leave you wanting more.
It's billed as an autobiography, but it isn't really. You learn little about his private life or his family but that doesnt matter. It more a commentary of much of the political antics that he has witnessed and been part of.
He is frank about his dodgy behaviour on Clapham Common and some of the clumsy early liaisons with potential lovers. You'll also get a measure of the insecurities he has even though he really has no reason to be.
You don't have to be into politics ( or a Tory ) to enjoy this book. Don't be put off by the size either.....its a pleasurable read and you'll finish it in a few of days.
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on 29 December 2002
I thought I'd take a minor risk and ask for this book for Xmas- I don't usually read biography and I'm not a Conservative!! However I was very pleasantly surprised.
After staying up two nights in a row until 3am to finish it I can say that Chance Witness is one of the most enjoyable reads I've had for a long time. More than that it gave me plenty of food for thought about the political scene in the UK over the past twenty or so years and challenged some of my preconceptions about right-wing politics.
In the end, Mr Parris came across as both honest and brave and some one who would be very entertaining at a dinner party! He also writes movingly on his integration of the public/political and private/gay aspects of his life and his thoughts on ageing.
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on 3 January 2008
Like another reviewer I had this on my Christmas list- and not being a conservative voter didn't really know what to expect.
Having seen Matthew on Grumpy Old Men, Question Time, and having his flat in London featured on Through The Keyhole(one entire wall being covered with books from ceiling to floor-always a sucker for a house with a heaving bookshelf)started reading with much interest.

All I can say is read this book and if you ever met him buy him a pint...for this tomb deserves it.In my own little way I think I understand him just that blittle bit better now for reading this and I feel all the better for doing so.
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on 26 February 2015
I came to read Chance Witness after wading through Michael Foot :A Life followed by John Major's autobiography. I found Matthew Parris a really refreshing read by someone who is a master of clear and sharp narrative. A well structured and at times painfully honest account of his earlier life at a time when homophobia was one of the elephants in the room . Unputdownable. It was good to have the epilogue from 2013 to bring the book up to date. I live on the edge of the Peak District so know many of the places in Derbyshire Matthew refers to which gave it local interest.
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on 7 July 2013
I thought this would please more than it did having taken very great enjoyment- as an old FCO man - in his anthologies of Ambassadorial despatches. I got a mite tired of Mr Parris's self-deprecating style as time wore on but, in the main, it's a pretty decent autobiography. Perhaps some of the lurid episodes might have been excluded but, maybe, I have led too sheltered a life although I do appreciate that he wished the reader to undertake fully his warts and all life. All in all I would recommend it.
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on 10 January 2014
I always thought of Matthew Parris as a gay ex-politician turned to media pundit - something like Michael Portillo, but after reading this I am considerably more impressed even though this book tells very little of his very adventurous life. He is clearly something of an explorer. At the start he tells of time spent on Kerguelen Island and from hints dropped he has climbed a number of mountains and is exceptionally well-travelled. He was born is Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and his early life was spent in Africa. He is obviously very fit, and is a strong long-distance runner. However this book focuses mainly on politics and his crusade to encourage a more general acceptance of homosexuality in the country - which started at a time when attitudes were very different from today. His overall honesty is sometimes very intense - such as the tale he tells of being tied up while a girl he was travelling with was raped. There are other times when the word spinning gets a bit tedious. However I was considerably more impressed with the book by the time I had finished it than as I started it.
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