Head of State

By Andrew Marr

(Overlook, $27.95, 384 pages)

Who is this author?

Andrew Marr is one of England’s most respected political journalists: a former editor of the Independent and BBC political editor as well as creator of several popular TV documentary series, including Andrew Marr’s History of Modern Britain and Andrew Marr’s The Making of Modern Britain. He also has published many nonfiction books. Head of State is his fiction debut.

What is this book about?

If you crossed the plots of the movies Wag the Dog and Weekend At Bernie’s, and let a highly intelligent and brilliantly satirical writer run with it, you’d have something approaching Head of State.

What if, this book asks, Great Britain is about to decide by referendum in 2017 whether to stay in the European Union or drop out? And what if, just a few days before the crucial vote that has divided the country, the Prime Minister suddenly – and secretly – drops dead? And what if a powerful group within the government does not want this crucial bit of information to be made public? And what if a prominent political reporter also dies? What sort of skullduggery might ensue, and to what end? Marr provides the answers to these questions and many more in this lively and alarming novel.

Why you’ll like it:

Marr is an insider’s insider, whose many years as a top-notch journalist has made him extraordinarily well-versed in the complex world of British politics.  Here he takes that real-world knowledge and spins it into a very witty and wry novel that offers readers insights that might be lost in a dry and ponderous nonfiction book. Could something like the plot of this book ever actually happen? Has it already happened? Readers will find it rewarding to absorb this sardonic, satiric, intriguing tale and wonder about its provenance.

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly, in a starred review, says: “Former BBC political editor Marr makes his fiction debut with a terrific satirical thriller reminiscent of the movie Wag the Dog. In 2017, the U.K. anxiously awaits the results of a referendum to determine whether it will leave the European Union. Prime Minister Bill Stevenson has made a vote to stay in the union the most important priority of his career, but as the election nears, the outcome is very much in doubt. He’s opposed by his former home secretary, Olivia Kite, who promises the “gift of freedom” if the country votes to leave. Three days before the referendum, investigative reporter Lucien McBryde dies from a fall, ending up in the morgue next to a man’s corpse that lacks hands and a head. Marr gradually reveals the circumstances of both deaths, and how they connect with a nuclear bomb of a conspiracy whose disclosure would all but cinch the vote for one side. Clever dark humor, witty prose, and a rigorously constructed plot add up to a thought-provoking read.

Kirkus Reviews, its starred review, says: “Now that the Scottish independence brouhaha has been settled, the question of the U.K.’s European Union membership is next on the agenda. Marr’s wickedly funny first novel, set in 2017, takes up the battle.The prime minister sees the U.K.’s economic future tied to Europe. Opponents, opposition and ruling party alike, feel Britain must no longer be subject to overweaning continental bureaucracies. The prime minister—once “an intense, wiry-haired young politician” who became a “larger-than-life, principled yet unscrupulous figure” of notoriously “louche private behavior”—is opposed by his former Home Secretary, Olivia Kite, “red hair, pale face and vivid crimson lips” (picture Cate Blanchet as Elizabeth I with the heart of Cromwell). The battle’s followed by pols, pundits and once-grand newspapers where “wise old sacks of human indolence order the young and stupid about.” Some characters are stock: reporter Lucien McBryde, an “an arrogant little sod” running on “marching powder”; and others are sociopathic: “that foul little splodge,” Alois Haydn, regarded as the “notorious Svengali of Number 10.” Marr flashes urbanely sardonic British humor (or humour)—”One of the great things about first-class air travel is that it puts all the crooks together”—and then explodes the narrative with an election-swaying death days prior to the vote. Enter Professional Logistical Services, a coven of former intelligence officers, military types and financial wizards, brought in to apply “advanced research techniques” to the crisis. Peripheral characters like the prime minister’s staff members; government functionaries; a Polish assassin; Myfanwy Davies-Jones, a novelist “with a cloud of yellow hair and a scarlet reputation”; and Lord Briskett, a noted historian from Oxford, “that crowded, clucking duckpond of vanity and ruffled feathers,” run amok while Mr. Haydn traipses about London with a human head in a “Waitrose ‘bag for life.’ ” Witty. Imaginative. Irreverent.”

“The tantalizing sense that the important actions of politics take place just out of sight, hidden from all but a tiny circle of insiders, pervades this novel and is perhaps its true subject. The author, Andrew Marr, is well placed to deliver such a story, being one of his country’s most prominent political journalists,” says The New York Times.”

When is it available?

The Downtown Hartford Public Library has this very funny book.

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