August 18, 2019

What Boris Johnson’s Forgotten Novel Says About the U.K.’s Likely Leader

What Boris Johnson’s Forgotten Novel Says About the U.K.’s Likely Leader


Johnson’s office did not reply to an interview request for this article. But he said in a 2004 interview with the Evening Standard that he wrote it out of “pure vanity” on holiday, “just to see that I could.”

“He’s not me, by the way,” Johnson added of Barlow, in an interview with The Times of London. “But you’ve got to use what you know, haven’t you?”

While writing the book, Johnson was “terrified” that it would come across as a pale imitation of P. G. Wodehouse or Evelyn Waugh, two of his favorite authors, he told the Sunday Business Post (other favorite authors include Chaucer, whom Johnson once praised for “his pricking of hypocrisy and his terrible puns,” and the crime writer Carl Hiaasen).

There is a long tradition of Conservative Party politicians writing novels, Fielding said. Winston Churchill, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote one novel, “Savrola,” about a revolution in a fictional country. The hero was a faintly disguised version of Churchill, Fielding said.

Benjamin Disraeli, another key figure in British politics, wrote romantic novels in the 1800s, many with a political message. In “Sybil,” for instance, a working-class heroine finds love with an aristocrat, a barely disguised call for Britain’s lower and upper classes to unite against the evils of industrialization, Fielding said.

In “Seventy-Two Virgins,” the political message at times seems at odds with Johnson’s right-wing politics. The most sympathetic character is Dean, a young terrorist from Britain’s Midlands whose back story involves petty crime, a racist foster parent and a next-door neighbor obsessed with cheese. A traffic warden from Nigeria plays a key role. And there is anti-Americanism running through the novel (“Britain slavishly followed America into the war on terror,” Johnson writes).



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