The Spoiler by Annalena McAfee

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The Spoiler by Annalena McAfee

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Luci Davin
Reviewed by Luci Davin
Summary: An encounter between two female journalists of very different generations.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 320 Date: April 2011
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 978-1846554353

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Several things about this novel intrigued me. It is about two female journalists of very different generations. Also, it is set in the recent past – 1997. While newspaper production had been computerised, it was just before internet access at home and work became affordable and accessible to far more people and so became mass media, and newspapers were almost entirely a print medium – newspaper websites were just around the corner. Annalena McAfee has an insider's knowledge of the newspaper world as she was a journalist for many years, and her career included founding the Guardian's review section in its current form.

At 25, Tamara Sims is excited to be offered a big story, which she hopes will lead to her promotion. She is sent to interview 80 year old Honor about her long career as a war correspondent and hard news reporter. Unfortunately, things don't go well. Tamara and her photographer are really late, and her knowledge and interest is in celebrity gossip. Most of what Honor says goes straight over her head, and she doesn't realise when the older woman starts to make things up to test her. Then, when she gets back to work, her bright, knowledgeable rival is borrowing her desk and computer again.

There is lots of comic potential here, and the book did make me laugh, and cringe, several times. However, I thought the depth of Tamara's ignorance of anything, and silliness, were too far fetched. Journalism was already quite tough to get into and it is hard to believe that such a vacuous person could have got a job. Tamara is my generation, and nearly as old as me, and I just don't find her representative or believable. I read the novel wanting to shake her and tell her to read Honor's memoir properly to prepare for writing up the interview.

Honor's personality and story about the difficulties of old age were far more appealing. McAfee has drawn heavily from material about the famous war correspondent Martha Gellhorn in portraying Honor. She is spiky and cross, and she is rude to Tamar, but I found her despair, not just at the uselessness of the younger generation, but at the frustrations of old age, really sympathetically portrayed. She is not very nice, but she is totally convincing.

Overall, I was disappointed in this novel. I didn't find any of the characters real enough, and the portrayal of the media world was intriguing but McAfee's satire wasn't sufficiently sustained.

Thank you to Harvill Secker for sending a copy of The Spoiler to the Bookbag.

Other novels about female journalists you might enjoy include: Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman, Patricia Hall's series about Laura Ackroyd and Michael Thackeray, including By Death Divided, and Emma Cole's Every Secret Thing.

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Buy The Spoiler by Annalena McAfee at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Spoiler by Annalena McAfee at


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