The Premise: a satirical reimagining of the politics of 2016, Kompromat puts together the Brexit referendum, US presidential election and a Russian plot to destabilise the West to create something that’s part thriller, part farce. Stanley Johnson, as a former politician and father of a certain foreign secretary, is well-placed to make these things up.
Thoughts: there’s something quite delightfully silly about Kompromat, despite (or perhaps because of) its serious subject matter. Alongside topical depictions of some of the most significant events of the past year in politics, there are accidental buttock-shootings and in-depth investigations into some ‘Let’s Make American Great Again’ boxer shorts. This pretty much sums up the tone of the novel, with Johnson simultaneously offering a clearly fictionalised but worryingly believable version of real-life events, while juxtaposing these moments with slapstick humour. It makes Kompromat a fun read. It’s also entertaining to ‘celeb-spot’ while reading, with Johnson utilising very thinly-disguised caricatures of some of the movers and shakers of 2016’s dramatic events; Mabel Killick, for example, features as the leopard-print shoe-wearing Home Secretary at the outset, while the presidential candidate Ronald Craig, with his brash pronouncements and lack of political nous has an equally obvious real-life inspiration. Again, it’s entertaining, rather than particularly hard-hitting, but with the news becoming increasingly more worrying, it’s refreshing to see these machinations dealt with in a more light-hearted way. Laughter is the best cure, right?
I was borderline terrified when Kompromat began with a 5 page list of characters; in a possibly never to be repeated comparison between these two tomes, this is what’s always put me off reading War and Peace. But, when reading, it’s not that hard to keep track of who’s who, largely because of the obvious caricaturing; more difficult is keeping track of what’s fact and what’s fiction. Which is somewhat scary in itself.
In Conclusion: an easy and fun read with serious subject matter, Stanley Johnson offers an insight into the pettiness and power plays of politics, with some of the humorous inventions coming a little too close to the truth. Recommended for politicos, news hounds and fans of satire.