Sunday, September 12, 2010

Tony Blair's Prose Style

I've been reading Tony Blair's memoir A Journey for the last few days and I've been intrigued by Blair's writing style. It's not Churchillian that's for sure but seems to be - like Mr Churchill himself - a trans Atlantic amalgam. Its not quite British English, not quite American English. His vocabulary is very slangy and colloquial and this makes the book chatty and extremely readable but also robs it of gravitas. It's a strange tone to take for what essentially is a political memoir (there isn't really much autobiography).
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It was probably a mistake on my part to get the US version of A Journey because its full of irritating parentheses explaining by elections and Arthur Scargill etc. Sonny Mehta the editor in chief at Knopf probably told Blair to unpack everything so that readers with the meanest understanding could get it (this might once have been good policy once but times have changed since Sonny's heyday and now in the age of wikipedia this thinking is completely redundant). I imagine too that the UK version doesn't begin with the gushing preface about Blair's love for America which most American citizens - including your own correspondent - will find embarrassing. I suppose the biggest surprise of the book so far is Blair's prudery: he refuses to use profanity, writing "f***ing" and even "bull****" lest anyone be upset by words which have been appearing in English publications since the time of Chaucer.
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I haven't finished A Journey but at the moment, despite its weirdness, it's up there with Churchill's My Early Life as one of the most entertaining Prime Minister's memoirs - not a genre studded with brilliance, admittedly.
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I have read enough to be unimpressed by the indexing job. If you look up Australia in the index there are two listings. The indexer missed Blair's visit to Australia where he stayed with the Prime Minister and spoke in front of Rupert Murdoch's business group, he somehow missed Blair's influential Australian best friend in college, and he missed the fact that Blair actually lived in Australia for nearly five years when he was a boy. This is lazy stuff from Knopf.
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Finally I felt this clip from Apocalypse Now was appropriate (esp at 1:59) but it should NOT be watched by animal lovers. Oh and yeah, spoiler alert, this is the end of the movie.
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And a final final thought, Peter Morgan who wrote The Queen and who owes his entire career to Blair is saying in The Daily Telegraph that Blair plagiarised him when Blair wrote about his first meeting with Queen Elizabeth. "You are my 10th Prime Minister, Winston was the first," Helen Mirren says in the film. Remarkably, in the book, the real Queen Elizabeth says exactly the same thing even though Peter Morgan says that he completely made that line up. Interesting, no?