Ok, hands up those of us who remember floating around with a silly smile on our faces on the morning of 2nd of May 1997 and then over the next twelve years saw those smiles disolve into feelings of betrayal. I have to admit I was one of those and for me the key instigators of the betrayal were Peter Mandleson and the Blairs. So it was when I began reading Cherie Blair’s autobiography Speaking for Myself that I expected to be bombarded by spin and sentiment. The exact opposite is true and this is one of the most different and engaging auto-biographies or biographies I have ever read.
Whilst all memoirs are taking a position and trying to paint a particular picture this one is different from most. Yes there are clear ommissions, most noteably about the miners strike which becomes one short incidental paragraph but this is more personal than most. What is most striking and perhaps is reflected within the title is the lack of a ghost writer. Autobiographies are often noted for the emphasis on the sob story or the fortitude of the writer and often they give a clear insight into the writers early life and professional life but not their personal life. This though has the ring of a woman who just wants to tell it like it is / was and thank alot of people who wouldn’t normally get a look in, but have helped keep a bizarre world bearable. It is a book which gives a facinating into the beliefs of “average Catholics” who are devout in their faith but totally at home in the late modern world and the reality of their lives reflects this and the contrictions that then occur between “official doctrine” and day to day practice and attitudes.
It is a book which does not read like either a feminist tract or religious testimony but yet could be seen as both and more besides. Within the book Blair talks about the reality of balancing a busy life and being a working mum. She talks about the importance faith has in your decision making but equally how at times you decide to disregard the churches formal teaching because it is totally out of step with modern life. Within this she also talks about the way your faith directs your own beliefs and decision making processes but it does not lead you to condemn or comment upon others who make different choices. It is a book which talks about friendship but also about politicing. It is also a book which talks realistically about the demands being in the public eye puts on people. In short it is a book about real life and a real woman.
It also moves beyond Mandleson and gives insight into the mind of a New Labour supporter. It shows what the motivations were and how the complex beliefs in and against socialism work. It is a book which has made me more sympathetic to the architects position, although still not leading me to agree with much of it.
If I were to recommend one non-fiction book to read this year I think it would be this one. I’d also recommend you take a look at her website, which reflects what I would regard as the sensible face of feminism, although I am sure that you would never find the f word coming from her lips.