Today Dr Clare Horrocks, reviews Being Alert by Charlie Laidlaw. Thank you so much for stopping by today. We would really appreciate your comments and shares to social media.
Being Alert! By Charlie Laidlaw
Being Alert! begins in January 2020 as the British prime minister, Winston Spragg, first learns about a new illness that seems to be centred in a city in China that nobody has heard of.
Following in a long tradition of British satire, the book populates Downing Street and Whitehall with an inept prime minister presiding over a dysfunctional government as it deals with an existential threat that rapidly becomes a national crisis.
Like satires before it, the book uses humour to paint an uncomfortable picture of a government seemingly as concerned about justifying itself as working to protect the country.
I’m the author of two novels, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead and The Space Between Time (due for publication in June 2019). A third novel, Love Potions and Other Calamities, is due to be published in November 2019 (all published by Accent Press).
I was born and brought up in the west of Scotland and graduated from the University of Edinburgh. I still have the scroll, but it’s in Latin, so it could say anything.
I then worked briefly as a street actor, baby photographer, puppeteer and restaurant dogsbody before becoming a journalist. I started in Glasgow and ended up in London, covering news, features and politics. I interviewed motorbike ace Barry Sheene, Noel Edmonds threatened me with legal action and, because of a bureaucratic muddle, I was ordered out of Greece.
I then took a year to travel around the world, visiting 19 countries. Highlights included being threatened by a man with a gun in Dubai, being given an armed bodyguard by the PLO in Beirut (not the same person with a gun), and visiting Robert Louis Stevenson’s grave in Samoa. What I did for the rest of the year I can’t quite remember.
Surprisingly, I was approached by a government agency to work in intelligence, which just shows how shoddy government recruitment was back then. However, it turned out to be very boring and I don’t like vodka martini.
Craving excitement and adventure, I ended up as a PR consultant, which is the fate of all journalists who haven’t won a Pulitzer Prize.
I’m also married with two grown-up children and live in East Lothian. And that’s about it.
Guest Review by Dr Clare Horrocks
4 * Review
It was with some trepidation that I set out preparing for this review. Armed with a glass of port (I had run out of wine!) I couldn’t help but snigger at how appropriate this setting was when I started to read about Winston Spragg, Prime Minister. The Merlot-sodden, bloated and greedy picture of the latin-speaking snooty Prime Minister was all too familiar a characterisation when we consider it was influenced by the buffoonery of the dishevelled Boris Johnson. Could these men lead us through a crisis like Covid?
Beginning in January 2020 the book follows the government’s handling of the Covid crisis from a satirical perspective. No stranger to satire from my own academic research on the forefathers of British satire, Punch and Private Eye, I was curious to see how it would work in fiction. Charlie Laidlaw, like many satirical writers before him, has the skill to exaggerate key characteristics of the politicians we read about and to create fictional characters that have you both nodding in recognition and groaning at the potential for what they are capable of. How many times during Covid have we shouted at the television or radio, “what are they thinking of??”. Well Being Alert starts to give you an at times uncomfortable suggestion of what politicians may be thinking of. Why did Dominic Cummings drive all the way to Durham if he thought he had Covid? Well Derek Goings, with poor eyesight but deep perception, believes it is a chance to expose flaws in the Minister for Health’s management of the situation, lining up a scapegoat for when Winston Spragg will certainly make a mess of it. For, secretly Spragg is nothing without the puppet master Goings – do we have a play on words here, Cummings and Goings?
There are some very funny moments in the narrative that have you groaning with laughter, though the experience is bitter sweet. It would all seem too ridiculous a plot if we weren’t actually living through it at the moment. At times, some of the suggestive scenarios are a little too close for comfort, particularly when you consider we are potentially on the verge of another lock-down. There’s almost a feeling of guilt laughing at how far-fetched some of the scenes could be construed as being if it weren’t for the fact that it is unfolding hourly and daily in front of us on the news. I think it may be a book I will enjoy more when (and if!) we ever find our way out of this nightmare, in a few years when I can look back and laugh, thinking, yes they were crazy times but we survived it. At the moment, it’s all too eerily familiar. Still, well worth a read and some excellent satirical characterisation.
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