Reckless

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Reckless
By William Nicholson
Quercus – £16.99

Reckless quintessentially takes one back to a time when, dare I say it, Great Britain was perhaps (indeed) great.

A time when people spoke differently and there was more of an under-current of blatant morality. A time when footballers weren’t generating yearly wages akin to that of a hospital week. And although human nature was still, human nature, the differing strains of humanity – not to mention the occasional twain that existed betwixt the sexes – was invariably (and thankfully) somewhat more gentle. More civil.

Naturally, one man’s civility is another man’s treachery; which, during The Cold War – upon which this book is fundamentally based – was pretty much the norm. Playing literary host to as much, writer, author and playwright, William Nicholson (whose plays include Shadowlands and Life Story, both of which won the BAFTA Best Television Drama Award of their year), clearly knows a thing or two about how to tell a story and how to keep people, or in this instant, the reader, mighty interested.

Tempestuously, if not snuggly set within the trajectory of the Second World War and the ever looming Cuban Crisis, Reckless tells the story of one Rupert Blundell, who is close advisor to Lord Mountbatten; along with the eighteen year old Pamela, who is advisor to no one other than her own middle-class and utterly misguided, high-octane, tart-induced sexuality. Throw in the Irish, religiously obsessed Mary Brennan, the kooky Nikita Khrushchev and a far too irate JFK, and what we have here is the nigh perfect ménage a trois of death, sex and God. Not particularly in that order mind, but the world according to the ever fantastic Nick Cave, does invariably leap forth.

Riddled with a menagerie of cracking one liners: ”’Oh, the royals can’t do a thing,’ said Lady Astor. ‘No one pays the slightest attention to a word they say. Of course, everyone loves them, but only in the way you love a family pet;”’ ”Examplars of the power wielded the world over by the stupid and the strong;” ”Defence strategy in an age of nuclear weapons could no longer be understood as the winning of battles. In an age of deterrence, the only victory was to not have a war;” ”Time to check her work and tell encouraging lies;” ”In the upper middle classes the stupid boys went into the City, and the stupid girls did art.”

Cynicism may reigneth throught these fifty-eight chapters and 495 pages, but what makes this book so very readable and enjoyable – apart form the characters, the language and the all round tonality – is the way in which
Nicholson never allows the interest to wane. No sooner have you turned one corner of colourful story telling (be it shagging during one’s lunchbreak or Cuba on a knife-ege), when you are immediately thrust unto a moral dilemma, wherein the answer(s) is never, ever crystal clear. Let alone palapable. Reachable: ”It’s like the final gunfight in a Western. It’s a moral stand-off. The first and most crucial battle, Rupert wrote on his pad, is the battle to make the other side shoot first.

I found this worthy book an entertaining read for a number of reasons: it’s witty’n’gritty, sassy’n’sexy, as well as acutely moral in equal measure. That it’s written with more flair than Janette Winterson on a tight-rope, only adds to its elongated validty.

David Marx

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