Friday, 8 January 2010


Listening to yet another anodyne serial on Radio 4, I started thinking about the worst books I have ever read. This is tough to do because I rarely finish a book I don't engage with, apart from the required academic reading (could come up with quite a few there), or out of some horrible or prurient fascination with the subject (Miss Whiplash's 'autobiography' comes to mind). But suddenly, it came to me. The worst book I have ever read was Jeffrey Archer's 'First Among Equals'.

I found it amongst the board games in the day room of the neurology ward, where I spent a good six weeks last summer. A torn paperback edition, it was the only book there; maybe someone had hidden it there, in shame. Anyway, we were right in the middle of the MP expenses scandal and, bearing in mind Lord Archer's past convictions for shady dealings, I thought his book might shed some light on the workings of the House of Commons, particularly since one enthusiastic critique trumpeted it as the most important political novel of the century. It opened with a series of potted characterisations of the four main players. Two thirds through the book itself, I was still having to turn back to these character profiles to work out who was who and doing what to whom. In other words, all of the usual, even painstaking means of building characters through narrative and dialogue, were subject to gaps and omissions. The prose was dire; short declarative sentences, unrelieved by the slightest reflection, like some processing plant. The plot revolved around which of the four 'new' MPs would become Prime Minister. I didn't stick around long enough to find out, the library trolley having ridden to my rescue with a copy of Michael Palin's excellent 'Hemingway's Chair'; but I suspect it wasn't any of them. It must have been the wild card (Margaret Thatcher character). Now there's a twist in the tale.

More recent nominations, which I haven't actually read, might be:

Wayne Rooney's (auto)biography

Anything by Jordan (Katie Price).

No comments: