Sunday, January 10, 2010

Comment on The Irregulars

I’ve tried to stay away from book reviews because for one, this isn’t a book club blog. Secondly, I like to consult at least two (and preferably more) sources when writing to get some consistency and originality. I’m breaking my rules.

The Irregulars. The reason for my delay in blog postings (that and the holidays, and the daily 9 to 5—so there are lots of excuses). The problem with The Irregulars is that it should be awesome. Espionage, World War II, Washington, British Embassy, AND it centers on author Roald Dahl of James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fame. His autobiographies are on my bookshelf. He’s a favorite and always has been.

However, this is one of those books where you tell yourself, “I’ll get through a chapter tonight. At this rate that book will be done by Sunday. Success!” Sunday rolls around and you read ten pages, put it down for a few days. Read ten pages, put it down. At the same time it is not a bad book, but the way the book is marketed is that you think you’re getting a continued bio on Dahl and his days as a spy in Washington, his connection to Eleanor Roosevelt who would have him to the White House for tea, his days as a womanizing playboy, or his connection to Bond creator and co-worker Ian Fleming. Instead you get are vague tales of a Washington society with vapid cocktail parties in the midst of war and of paper-pushing memos which go nowhere or have minimal effect (Doesn’t that sound like Washington today?). In fairness, there is not much author Jennet Conant can say. Lots of the dealings with the British Embassy remain confidential, leaving room for speculation. Despite this, I am left with the feeling that British propagandist Dahl was no grand spy, but a mid-level embassy employee, who had good connections as a budding writer. He was only about 28 at the time—too young for a diplomat.

Is this all to say that there is no redeeming factor in the book? No, absolutely not. Conant’s work shows the level of access the Roosevelt’s had. You could be 28 and have tea with Eleanor for tea, or get invited to Hyde Park. I get the sense that the author thought to herself, “Roald Dahl, a spy? This will be a terrific book.” She followed the documents, but could not get enough information to make it gripping. To compensate for that Conant spins a tale of an American government who was lost in a war with little intelligence. She demonstrates the influence of Britain’s embassy over both the legislative and executive branches, over the democratic process, and over the value of friendships in DC as well.

My favorite tidbit gleaned from The Irregulars? It’s rumored that one wild night Dahl went out and painted red the errrr “nether regions” of the Bison statues by the Dumbarton Bridge leading from Dupont to Georgetown. It was written up in the gossip columns. I’ll look in to it this month and let you know what I find out (or at least let you know the history of the bison).

1 comment:

  1. Totally with you on this one. Interesting enough story, good local tidbits, but the overall effect was pretty flat.

    The whole LBJ/Marsh/Dahl love triangle was fun, but it still kind of felt like I was reading a doctoral thesis.