Top critical review
The blurred line between fact and fiction
2 January 2017
The story works well, interweaving the renowned or infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech with a murder-mystery with racial overtones. It is very readable and enjoyable, and on that level, I’d give it five stars. I never felt like abandoning it, and looked forward to picking it up.
A personal reaction: I don’t like the genre, in which a real person is made into a fictional character, so that the lines between fact and fiction are blurred. I must be the only person in the world who didn’t like “Wolf Hall”. In this case, I actually remember Enoch Powell, and don’t like it when the author chooses to show “typical” behaviour, such as Powell doffing a schoolboy cap in Caernarfon Castle as a mark of respect, or singing “Rule Britannia” in the car. I believe that one of those is fact, one is fiction, but it annoys me that I don’t know. Did Enoch Powell really prefer the Marx Brothers to Hancock and Steptoe, or is this fiction, included to show his character?
Fact or fiction, I didn’t like the way Enoch Powell was sometimes portrayed. In one description, Enoch looked like Hitler about to invade Poland. Too much.
It was in the detail that the book irritated me. Incidental characters were stereotypes: Dennis (skinhead yobbo), Taffy Thomas (Welshman, boyo), Denise (butch feminist), Kathy (struggling single mother). I disagree that the author researched the times well. If I remember correctly, certain phrases spoken by the characters were not in use at the time, for example, “from the get-go”, “dumped”, “old farts”, “get over yourself”, “an item”. If you are going to quote contemporary popular culture, at least get the spelling right. Otis Reading, Ina Sharples and Jimmy Hendrix all featured. The folk club scene was another stereotype for me. It felt as though the author was trying too hard to shoe-horn in the contemporary references he’d researched, and was getting them a bit wrong. He should have been practicing more (his spelling, not mine).
Similarly, I felt that the author was trying too hard to set attitudes in the Britain of the 1960s against those in Brexit Britain. I thought he was reinventing Enoch Powell as a sort-of cultured Nigel Farage, and it didn’t work for me.
I can see why this book is so positively reviewed, and mixing biography with history, social commentary, romance, thriller and who-dun-it clearly works for people. The book may be a suitable introduction to profitable research into Powell and the history of race relations in our country. There are other definite plusses as other reviewers have already said. It just wasn’t entirely for me, unfortunately.