Former deputy leader of the Labour Party Tom Watson teams up with a historical novelist to create a story that purports to give an insight into politics in the Commons today.
The protagonists were once housemates, but now Labour MP Owen McKenna and Tory Minister Philip Bickford are on opposite sides. Nevertheless, they share a secret about their former housemate Jay, who had a promising career in politics — until something went horribly wrong 14 years ago as the financial crisis broke...
However, this is certainly not House Of Cards, nor The West Wing; it is about as exciting as an evening spent folding leaflets with the local Labour Party.
The depiction of the sacrifices and betrayals required by politics benefit from an insider’s knowledge, and the plot driver of bullying allegations is topical and commendably unexpected. That said, readers’ excitement levels will largely depend on how gripping they find the nitty-gritty of special advisers’ lives and the ticking time bomb that is a list of marginal seats. You might think that the portrayal of the male characters as weak and conniving, and that of the female as strong if scheming, perhaps shows which of the authors did most of the writing; I couldn’t possibly comment.
the novel is good on Westminster’s hinterland of wonks and wannabes, and what it’s like to be the prey of a media feeding frenzy; a preposterous final scene apart, the plotting is competent. But with none of the cast even in the cabinet, and neither PM nor Labour leader glimpsed, the stakes will be too low for readers used to House of Cards-style political thrillers, and the apparent absence of à clef portraits of Watson’s former colleagues and opponents is also disappointing. In short, it’s too civilised: not risky or nasty enough.
Watson follows in a long line of politicians writing novels, some making a successful career out of it (Jeffrey Archer), others coming in for something of a pasting (Ann Widdecombe, Iain Duncan Smith). Co-written with the historical novelist Imogen Robertson, The House deserves to do well: it’s intelligent and disturbing, both for its insights into the way politics works and for its glimpses of a post-virus future, where masks and temperature checks are the norm and where a greeting is a bow, accompanied by “the light smile the British still wear when they catch themselves avoiding shaking hands”.