In an interesting show of unity this summer, New Labour’s top fallen politicians have rushed to release their autobiographies. Peter Mandelson and his publishers managed to beat Tony Blair and his. This rush job means, even a casual reader will notice some of the glaring irregularities and mistakes. However, this book is clearly written for a casual reader, which is one of it’s main strengths.
If you’re even peripherally interested in British politics, Mandelson’s biography may be best for you. There are some rather serious criticisms to lay into The Third Man, and I’ll mention these throughout this review. However, some of its’ weaknesses are also its’ best qualities.
If you’re interested in an exhaustive linear account of events, don’t read this book because it will drive you crazy. The Third Man’s chronology is loose,and skirts around some general themes interspersed with temporal diarrhea. It tends to follow a pattern, but frequently random trains of thought violently burst through. The detail also seems a bit hazy. Occasionally, an overly particular or unnecessary detail bursts through, trying to illustrate an important scene for the reader. Unfortunately, it makes some of the descriptions feel a bit disingenuous. For example, early in the book Mandelson writes about Gordon Brown’s peculiar distaste for sandwiches. Later in the book, he describes a scene where GB sends his girlfriend out to fetch some sandwiches.
If you were a particularly meticulous editor, you would spot inconsistencies, and the occasional typo still in the book that likely belies its’ hasty publication. But, if you want a meticulous account without being spared and trite or dull detail, read Margaret Thatcher’s books because they read like an history textbook if that’s what you’re interested in. The main strength of The Third Man is that it reads like a novel. The style is closer to Sophie Kinsella or Lauren Weinberger, but with a vaguely more up-market plot.
I read a substantial amount of this book on an 10-hour flight from London to Vancouver. I read about half the book over the course of that flight, and enjoyed it even in that environment. It was perfect for the time. I was a bit tired, quite distracted, a bit tipsy and needing amusement. The style of the book is essentially conversational. A long story, interspersed with anecdotes, occasional name dropping and very few dates or lists.
I wouldn’t implicitly distrust any of the facts in this book, nor would I accept anything at face value. As in any autobiography, the author comes off better than any of the other characters. But, there is nothing wrong with that. Mandelson describes the feelings, the relationships, the interpersonal dynamics of the New Labour party. Clearly it’s clouded by Mandelson, the Dark Lord of Spin and Labour’s, opinions, but the book does not appear to be duplicitous in its’ intentions. The style, tone and content of the book does nothing to convey impartiality or an objective lens. The subtitle is Life at the Heart of New Labour. Essentially, it does what it says on the tin (cover, in this case).
It’s Mandelson’s colourful and approachable description of his own life in New Labour. It’s a bit self-serving, the details are selective and it’s relatively informal for a political context. Those points may be either strengths or weaknesses, depending on what you are looking to read. But if you have an interest in politics and don’t want something too heavy or demanding, I would recommend this book.
The Third Man: Life at the Heart of New Labour (Book)