As the title suggests, Laidlaw, author of The Things We Learn When We’re Dead and The Space Between Time, has now turned his eye to our current situation, and has written an extremely strong satire on the UK Government’s response to the pandemic in the first half of this year.
I loved Spitting Image the first time round (I’m still to see the new series) and there’s a special place in my heart for HIGNFY, but this felt different, not least because the long-predicted second wave is just about breaking over our heads as I finished reading. As I read about the ineptitude of Laidlaw’s thinly-disguised PM and his sidekicks, it made me realise just how much I have become inured to the situation we find ourselves in. This is, I recognise, my way of coping, but I was horrified afresh whenever Laidlaw calmly reminded us of the sequence of events last spring. He has cleverly juxtaposed a factual tone to record actual events, and the rising death toll, alongside the more noxious ‘comic’ narrative which unfolds inside Winston Spragg’s Downing Street.
As with all good satire, this narrative works because it manages to be both highly critical and damn funny as it pokes the pointed stick at those in power and responsible for so much. His Derek Goings, the PM’s Chief Advisor, emits a smell of ‘decay and utter darkness’ and wears dark glasses all the time. The rest of the gang’s all there too, including the newly-elected Labour leader Ken Stamper, who recognises that ‘getting the Labour Party back to being a pale imitation of itself would be a long, hard struggle’. There’s political plotting and ineptitude in spades. There’s an amusing sideline involving Berwick-Upon-Tweed too. Oh, and the Russians get involved.
What comes out of this novel is that a) the Government has made a right mess of things and is full of self-serving idiots, and b) Laidlaw is a born satirist whose humour in his earlier novels has been able to get up to full speed here. He doesn’t miss a trick or a stumble as he focuses a piercing light on all the misjudgements made thus far. This novel should be read widely. It’s brilliant.