Book Review: Seventy-Two Virgins by Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson’s novel about a plot on Westminster is about as nuanced and sensitive as you’d expect a book about an attack on the mother of all parliaments would be from our current Prime Minister.

The story rattles along at speedy pace but still manages to feel overwritten at times.  Characters are often two-dimensional, with the exception of Robert Barlow, a cycling-loving Conservative London MP in the midst of a sex and corruption related scandal– remind you of anyone?

Written in 2006, when New Labour were still the dominant force in British politics and the Conservatives had just lost three general elections on the trot, Johnson’s first novel is Boris at his most Boris. Not that being prime minister, even during a horrendously mismanaged global pandemic, has done much to change his bumbling Etonian persona. 

Johnson is purposefully anti-PC throughout. You can picture him gleefully imagining the indignation of a jelly-bellied Guardian book reviewer as he writes.

But the only thing truly offensive is the forced innuendos shoehorned in where-ever possible. ‘West London was spread out beneath them in the morning sun, like a beautiful woman surprised in bed without her make-up,’ is unlikely to go down in a list of pithy classic quotes of British literature. In fact the overly Jeremy Clarkson-eqsue quips detract from a surprisingly interesting plot which takes place over the course of a single day, some chapters covering the course of only two minutes. 

The strongest thing the book has going for it though, is that like Johnson’s premiership itself (pre-pandemic at least) it’s pretty funny. There are more than a few laughs packed into the 320-odd pages. It’s like an episode of Partridge, just missing the spark and loveable charm that comes from well-developed characters. 

The novelty of reading a book by the current PM made this worth picking up, for me at least. It seems a staggering glitch in the matrix that the author of this paltering parody has become one of the most powerful and popular Prime Ministers of the last 30-years. 

In an alternate world, maybe Johnson stayed a backbench MP writing witty political comedies, rather than climbing the greasy pole and becoming Prime Minister. Would that world be better for Britain? You may think that, I couldn’t possibly comment. 

My favourite line? “Incompetence was no guarantee of failure.” Words I can only assume Boris lives by.

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