Traitor King by Andrew Lownie is an account of the events which followed Edward VIII’s abdication of the throne in 1936 to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Lownie puts forward a convincing case that the newly created Duke and Duchess of Windsor were not just fascist sympathisers but also actively colluded with the Nazi regime. Living in various luxury apartments in Paris and the Bahamas, the couple rarely returned to England in order to avoid paying income tax and were obsessed with their social status and keeping up the appearance of a successful happy marriage when the reality was very different. ‘Traitor King’ is a well-researched book drawing on extensive archives to produce a damning portrait of a truly appalling couple who had no redeeming features whatsoever.
One on One by Craig Brown is a daisy chain of 101 chance encounters, starting with Adolf Hitler almost being run over by John Scott-Ellis in 1931, then Scott-Ellis meeting Rudyard Kipling, then Kipling meeting Mark Twain and so on. Mostly spanning the 20th century, the figures include actors, musicians, politicians and members of the British Royal Family. Brown’s biographical subjects Princess Margaret and the Beatles both feature and the eclectic cast means that the book can jump from Leo Tolstoy to Michael Barrymore within a few pages. Each encounter is told in exactly 1,001 words (although not including footnotes in some cases) and while some represent significant points in history, others are either long forgotten or inconsequential meetings. Best known for his satirical writing in Private Eye, Brown plays it straight in ‘One on One’ but there is humour to be found either in the encounters themselves, or in the conflicting accounts given by those who were there. ‘One on One’ is an intriguing collection of anecdotes and perfect for dipping in and out of.
I reviewed The Circle back in 2014 and I reread it last month just before tackling its sequel The Every by Dave Eggers. It was definitely worth revisiting Eggers’ earlier novel because several of the characters return in the follow-up set nearly a decade later. The Every is the result of The Circle’s takeover of “an ecommerce behemoth named after a South American jungle”, thereby resulting in a total media monopoly. The main protagonist of ‘The Circle’, Mae Holland, has worked her way up the ladder to become CEO of The Every despite never having come up with an original idea of her own. ‘The Every’ follows the path of a new employee, Delaney Wells, who is starting out in an entry-level job while looking to take down The Every from inside, coming up with ever more ridiculous ideas that she hopes will destroy the company only to see it flourish even more. I was hoping that ‘The Every’ might expand on the main themes of ‘The Circle’ a bit more than it does, but it mostly revisits the same ideas about privacy and productivity and the negative impact of constant and intrusive monitoring of every activity. That said, although Eggers doesn’t tackle the issues in either novel with much subtlety, he does deploy humour with great effect among the more terrifying scenarios he portrays. Many thanks to Penguin for sending me a review copy via NetGalley.