Short Cuts

Thomas Jones

The special celebrity guest, a common enough creature on our TV screens, is a rarer bird on the books pages of the nation’s newspapers and magazines. But a tip for twitchers (should there be any) would be to keep half an eye on the New Statesman. A couple of years ago, in an inspired piece of commissioning, they asked Christine Hamilton to review An Accidental MP, Martin Bell’s account of how he ended up wearing nothing but white suits. And now they’ve got Honor Fraser, a supermodel, to write about Nicholas Blincoe’s latest novel, White Mice (Sceptre, £10.99), because it’s set in the world of fashion. The thinking behind the title is helpfully spelled out on the back of the book (above a picture of Blincoe wearing, of all things, a white suit): ‘Models are like white mice – they are cute, they all look identical, and they all sleep with each other.’

Blincoe was one of the editors of the hapless All Hail the New Puritans anthology, and the new novel attractively bends most of the rules in the New Puritan manifesto just short of the snapping point. Rule No.5 states: ‘In the name of clarity we . . . eschew flashbacks.’ White Mice opens with the narrator, Jamie Greenhalgh, the brother of a model, waking up next to someone he thinks is Jodie Kidd (she isn’t, incidentally). The chapter proceeds by alternating an account of what happens that morning with flashbacks to events of the night before. ‘Call yourself a New Puritan?’ the reader may well indignantly ask, but this isn’t really breaking Rule No.5, because the flashbacks are actually occurring in the narrative’s present in the narrator’s hungover memory (and, as if further mitigation were necessary, one of his drinks was spiked with magic mushrooms): ‘I try to run through the events that brought me here but hang up almost immediately. All I am getting are flashbacks – nothing that is at all coherent. If I ever get quoted, I know how feeble I am going to sound.’ Which only goes to show that the New Puritan manifesto was a bit naive; and, rather than open a family-size can of worms (all of them asking awkward questions about relationships between time and narrative), perhaps it’s better to take Fraser’s word for it: White Mice is ‘a sleek, contemporary novel fulfilling the requirement of Blincoe’s own New Puritan manifesto for fiction.’ So that’s all right then.

The Observer, not to be outdone, sent the novel to Alexandra Shulman, the editor of Vogue, whose reaction was rather less enthusiastic than Fraser’s: ‘I was going to write that most of the action was completely over the top, until I heard what had happened on one of Vogue’s recent fashion shoots. The experience sounded depressingly like something out of an extremely bad novel, and involved several scenes that might have been included in White Mice.’ That last sentence is worth reading twice.

And here at the LRB, we thought: who better to send it to than Tony Blair? After all, he’s contributed to the paper in the past. In October 1987, when he sat on the Opposition front bench as Labour’s Spokesman on Trade and Industry, he said in an LRB Diary: ‘There is nothing more ridiculous than the notion that socialism is inexorably dying . . . The world we face today makes a socialist approach all the more relevant . . . The 1990s will not see the continuing triumph of the market, but its failure.’ (These choice words were resuscitated in the LRB’s 20th-anniversary issue in September 1999, but that’s no reason not to repeat them again here.) It might be hard to believe that the man who wrote that is the same Tony Blair who’s now running the country; or it would be, if the Diary hadn’t also shown a certain Machiavellian interest in the pragmatics of achieving power: ‘Academics and commentators may ruminate on the Thatcher ethos and its effect on social attitudes, but the voters are looking in their pockets’; ‘the Tories can count on the media and capital to support them.’ It’s easy enough for an Opposition spokesman to say that ‘the “free” market does not distribute fairly or efficiently: it produces inequality and monopoly,’ but how can a Prime Minister be expected to entertain such an idea, and at the same time continue to enjoy the necessary support of capital, the media, and whatever it is that voters see in their pockets?

Such troublesome questions aside, at least there’s no doubt that the Prime Minister is interested in fashion. On his recent royal tour of Australia, King Tony’s clothes aroused considerable excitement, impeccably turned out as he was in That Paul Smith Shirt with the naked woman on the cuffs. According to the Guardian, the PM’s soft-porn chemise was a gift from Cherie Booth QC; but who knows? A year or two ago Smith was given a knighthood, and he sits alongside such luminaries as Sir Richard Branson on the Creative Industries Task Force. Perhaps, with sufficiently diligent digging, a ‘Cuffs for Questions’ sleaze scandal could be unearthed. It is, at any rate, more likely than ‘Blair on Blincoe’ appearing in these pages any time soon.