New British PM Also a Novelist (And a Waugh Fan)

The New York Times, in advance of Boris Johnson’s selection as new leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister, wrote a profile of his literary career. His book about Winston Churchill sold well and is still in print, but less known is his novel Seventy-Two Virgins. According to Johnson, this was written while he was on holiday just to prove he could do it. It may also have had to do with the fact that both his father, Stanley, and his sister, Rachel, have published novels to their credit. In Rachel’s case her literary effort (Shire Hell) rated the Bad Sex in Fiction Award from the Literary Review in 2008.

According to the NYTimes, Boris’s novel, published in 2004

…which has sold more than 46,000 copies according to Nielsen Book Research, is a farce about a terrorist plot to assassinate America’s president during a state visit to Britain, featuring a contest reminiscent of reality television, much talk of buxom women and occasional mocking of Britain’s welfare policies. Reviewers called it everything from an “effortlessly brilliant page-turner” to “not quite a novel.”

The story (written by Alex Marshall) goes on to explain that:

While writing the book, Johnson was “terrified” that it would come across as a pale imitation of P.G. Wodehouse or Evelyn Waugh, two of his favorite authors, he told The Sunday Business Post (other favorite authors include Chaucer, whom Johnson once praised for “his pricking of hypocrisy and his terrible puns,” and the crime writer Carl Hiaasen).

His Desert Island Disc book of choice was, however, Homer’s poetry printed on India paper in Greek to give himself something to translate. It was reported somewhere that the family used to speak amongst themselves in classical Greek. Did we mention that Boris has also published his own book of verse–The Perils of the Pushy Parents: A Cautionary Tale? And that he is currently at work on his next book (Riddle of Genius) which will be about Shakespeare and was scheduled, before his selection as PM, for publication next year ?

UPDATE (25 JULY 2019): Today’s issue of the Guardian carries another article which features not only Boris Johnson’s appearance in his own novel, but describes several appearances in other novels over the past few years. Before going there, however, the article, by John Dugdale, looks at past instances of appearances of characters who prefigured Boris:

Long before Boris Johnson began the game of putting himself in fiction, in his much-derided novel Seventy-Two Virgins in 2004, there were already shadowy echoes of him in literature. Recent profiles of the future prime minister have invoked […] Toad of Toad Hall (comparing the efforts of friends to rein him in to the ill-fated bid in The Wind in the Willows to make a “sensible Toad” of their manic chum). There’s William Boot in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, who rather like the young Boris is mistakenly hired as a reporter but copes by making things up. …


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