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on 10 July 2018
I re-read this book recently in light of current events (to my dismay realising I had neglected to leave a review the first time), and it remains every bit as powerful the second time around.
For a novel set in the 1960’s, in the days before what would become Powell’s most infamous speech, the correlation with today’s world is astounding; the treatment of the Windrush generation and of EU Nationals in the wake of the Brexit vote, two obvious contemporary analogies. This is a book therefore that isn’t just an excellent read through of recent history, but it has a timeless relevance as well.
I studied Powell’s political life as a student, but the added dimension here of his family life and relationships with colleagues/opponents elevates the book above what could easily have a become a two dimensional character attack. Likewise the added plot if Frank and Nelson grounds the story in reality and affords us a taste of what really happens to ordinary people when politicians open their mouths. All in all, a superb book which I will surely re-read again.
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on 8 June 2018
I often find fiction hard-going these days but I found this hard to put down, and a pleasure to pick up again each time. I loved the unjudgemental but realistic depiction of Powell's behaviour and motivation; I loved the delight in speech and language. I liked the blend of the verifiable (Powell's plotline) with the fantasy of the student plotline and thought it worked really well. I was a student at the time, and it was fun to revisit 1960s Brum. Now to see if I can find Edith's War.....
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on 29 August 2017
This is an interesting book with blurred lines between fact and fiction.
A few things didn't sit quite right for me. For a book set clearly in Britain there were a few American-isms which shouldn't have been there, Some of the language used would not have been in common use in the 1960s. Some of the secondary characters were a bit too stereotypical, as if the author felt the need to include them to make it genuine.
That said, it has made me think more about what is happening in current times in the news.
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on 12 August 2017
This is a powerful and completely plausible novel. Well written with a wonderful cast of characters. Thoroughly recommend.
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on 19 July 2017
Great book! As a student in the 60's I can identify with so much of it. Loved the unfortunate plot as it unfolded, threading in between Enoch's story, making compelling reading. I was intrigued by Andrew's way of portraying the Powell's family and political life; he must have done extensive research as I found it all very believable. Hope there is a sequel in the pipeline so we can follow Frank on his next adventure...
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on 12 July 2017
A Review of “The Speech” – author Andrew Smith
By
Deirdre Quiery

I really enjoyed “The Speech” by Andrew Smith. I would give it a 5 Star rating. The storyline follows the days leading up to Enoch Powell’s famous “Speech” on 20th April 1968, bringing the reader into the everyday life of Enoch, his motivations, frustrations and desires and explores the quality of his relationship with his wife Pam and daughters Susan and Jennifer.
In this way it was not only an interesting window of insight into a significant political person and his flawed thinking but in addition shows his vulnerabilities and human and personal needs with his family, his political assistant Georgy, his political opponents and Ted Heath.
The story doesn’t end there as Andrew cleverly introduces a parallel story involving a photographer Frank whose ambition to impress with his photography leads him into an act of betrayal of a Jamaican friend – Nelson. The two stories intersect as tension within the novel builds as the day for “The Speech” to be delivered approaches.
There are many aspects of this novel to delight the reader including the thorough research of the historical background to Powell, his family and political aspirations. It therefore is not only entertaining and well-crafted but also educational. I also found it surprisingly current in implicitly making the reader question what is a “good education”? Enoch no doubt had what may be called a certain intellectual acuity but this was diminished by arrogance, political ambition and a certain mediocrity of thinking. It was insightful and credible to discover the challenges he found because of this in his relationship with Ted Heath.
Having dabbled in my youth into photography, I was fascinated by the details provided in the work of the photographer Frank. It was so realistic being with him in his dark room; mixing his chemicals and feeling his excitement at seeing a new photo emerge.
The variety of characters within the book demonstrates a wide range of ability in the writing of the author. His understanding of the mind of Jamaican Nelson and his Aunt Irene give an added depth to the story. The dialogue is so authentic and contrasts exquisitely with the stiffness and rigidity of Enoch. We find ourselves as the reader not only understanding Enoch Powell’s world but travelling to Jamaica and learning about the corruption of white Jamaicans and entering the hearts and minds of those who found themselves leaving their homeland in search of a new and better life in England.
It is definitely a novel to recommend.
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on 10 July 2017
“A paranoid conspiracy theory” — this is how Frank, lead character of this wholly fictional but entirely plausible novel describes his friend’s suggestion that the authorities, far-right politicians and Nazi thugs could all be ensnared in a web of racism, bigotry and brutality.

However, a series of unfortunate events wake him from his comfortable if uninspired life as an art student in Wolverhampton in 1968 and lead him to discover some harsh realities. These show clearly how the inflammatory “rivers of blood” speech by his local MP, Enoch Powell, was to blame for fuelling the fires of violence and the fascist right.

Frank’s sublime ignorance is shattered when a photograph he took and doctored is used to frame his West Indian friend, Nelson, for a murder he had nothing to do with. In seeking to prove Nelson’s innocence, Frank is unwittingly thrown deep into a world of savage, pernicious racism which, he is shocked to discover, involves local landlords, small businessmen, fledgling Nazi groups and (to his great surprise) the police. In seeking to discover the truth of Nelson’s case, Frank learns both about himself and about society, as well as suffering ridicule from the state and violence from the fascists.

While this book is described as fiction, a lot of research and a lot of truth have obviously gone into the account of the cause and effect of Powell’s hate-filled speech, which gives the novel its name and provides its backdrop. The descriptions of the bloody effects of the speech mitigate any unwarranted sympathy this might evoke: racist attacks, Nazi meetings and marches, fear stalking minorities. Frank witnesses this climate first hand as he seeks to clear his friend’s name.

This is a real page turner, a sort of political crime thriller that would keep anyone amused over long winter evenings. While we might be startled by Frank’s initial naivety about society and racism, the way the events change him is realistic, reinforcing what socialists say about consciousness changing through experience.

The plot takes place against a 1960s setting of “subversive” music, radical fashions and a profound change in “moral values”, the progressive influences Powell and his ilk sought to halt. The narrative’s happy ending for Frank is convincing, and the joyous celebration of cultural diversity is one that is worth repeating.

I did feel that the postscript, being congratulatory details of the maiden speech by one of Powell’s successors in his Wolverhampton South West seat, Sikh Tory MP Paul Uppal, suggest the author hasn’t himself applied what Frank has learnt; “When situations are difficult and people struggle in life, reactionary ideas like yours seem an easy fix.”

However the rest of the novel is a wonderfully entertaining warning about the dangers of allowing racism to re-enter the mainstream of political life.
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on 1 June 2017
This is very readable and as someone who knew the Midlands in the 70s when police corruption and brutality were much in the news this was a chilling reminder of how vulnerable were - and still are - those deemed the underclass. Interestingly we also see the vulnerable side of Enoch Powell, in fact seeing the human side of the characters is a vital aspect of this book as they could so easily have remained stereotypes. This recapturing of the 60s makes it a fascinating read and the subject matter makes it an important book.
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on 23 April 2017
I'll start this review by saying that The Speech is not my usual reading genre, that of politically themed stories, but due to what is happening in the world at the moment, and the fact that this book was recommended to me, I thought I would give it a try, and I am so very glad that I did.

The Speech explores the life of Enoch Powell while living inWolverhampton during the 1960s, a decade before my time. The book is a wonderful mix of fiction and reality, which beautifully blends together to create this entertaining, yet educational and informative read.

Although, The Speech, is predominantly about Enoch Powell, it is really a story of three tales. We have the story of Nelson, who lives with his Aunt, who is wrongly accused of murder. I liked this character immensely, and felt great sadness for what he had to go through in order to protest his innocence. We also meet Frank, a photography student who is young and naïve and who 'helps' Enoch in his conspiracy to frame Nelson. To be honest, it was Nelson's plight and story that most intrigued me, and I found what happened to him just as relevant today, with current issues of Brexit and immigration dominating the headlines. We then also have the ten day time fame that the novel is set within, leading up to the infamous Rivers of Blood Speech and the novel's ultimate conclusion. This was a very clever narrative device, as I found myself whizzing through the pages in my urge to find out what happened to all of the characters. I needed to know!

This novel so eloquently highlights the issues of racism, bigotry and hatred. It is an emotional and insightful read, that grips you throughout Enoch Powell's political journey and subsequent fall from grace. Whether you like Powell or not, is, I feel, irrelevant, as what is of importance are the issues within the book, those of racism and being 'different' and the individual stories that unfold. So, do not be put off by the political angle in this book, or the fact that it is based upon a real life politician. While reading, I found it difficult to separate what was fact and what was fiction, but for me this didn't matter. It is not a biography, it is a work of fiction based upon fact. It is an enjoyable and immensely thought provoking read.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 April 2017
The Speech, by Andrew Smith, is set over a ten day period in April 1968 during which Enoch Powell, as local MP, gave his infamous Rivers of Blood speech. It is written from a variety of points of view thereby enabling the reader to gain a better understand of each of the protagonists. The era is evoked with a perceptive wit, whilst the story told – the machinations surrounding a Jamaican immigrant’s wrongful arrest for GBH – reminds how little certain people have progressed.

“He moved on to the effects on the “native population” of the granting of rights to so many immigrants – people were confronted by crowded maternity wards and their children forced to study in overflowing classrooms. Their neighbourhoods were being transformed against their will. He applied words to the British public such as “defeated” and attributed to them the feeling that they were “unwanted”. Powerful words […] painted a scene of utter degredation of ordinary native citizens as a result of immigration”

The tale opens with some background to Powell’s ancestry and upbringing, wryly salient given the opinions he developed. By 1968 he had been Wolverhampton South West’s MP for eighteen years and was serving in a shadow cabinet led by Ted Heath, who he wished to usurp. Powell’s constituency home is in a neighbourhood becoming popular with an increasing immigrant population and he is concerned about the effect this will have on property value.

Powell is supported in his local Tory party office by the intelligent and loyal Mrs Georgina Verington-Delaunay, known as Georgy. Whilst she acknowledges the strengths of Powell’s work ethic and values, she is increasingly disquieted by his beligerance. His regard for the days of Empire and conviction that England should not change frustrate her efforts to demonstrate the benefits of enabling recent arrivals to integrate.

Meanwhile, Wolverhampton art student, Frank McCann, is in his favourite bar examining a set of photographic prints taken at the previous day’s student demonstration in support of racial equality. The bartender points out that every face in his photos is white, suggesting that the images would be more powerful if a darker skinned person were portrayed. Frank accepts a wager from a couple of fellow students, disparaging his talents, that he will successfully doctor a print to replace one of the marchers with the image of a Jamaican friend, Nelson Clark, in a manner that makes the change undetectable. This challenge sets in motion a series of events that result in Nelson’s incarceration. Frank, with the help of his strong minded girlfriend, Christine, must then try to find a way to persuade the police, who are all too eager to prove Nelson guilty, that the photo they are using as evidence is a fake.

Racism, intolerance and hatred are never going to be comfortable subjects to read about but the warmth and humour of the narrative, and the breadth of characters populating each page, make this an engaging tale. Even Powell comes across with a degree of poignancy, notwithstanding his damaging rhetoric. It is sad that, despite improvements in many other areas, his ilk are still being listened to today.

The author uses dialogue to expand on arguments which, although succinct and well constructed, did not always segue with plot progression. The denouement relied on a stroke of luck, admittedly a familiar device. These were minor niggles in a work that offers an entertaining story as well as an evocative history of a period this country should by now have learned from. This is an intelligent and recommended read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Urbane.
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