One of Us by Melissa Benn

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One of Us by Melissa Benn

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: An elegant and classy reworking of a Greek tragedy covers the Labour party's reinvention, election and the debacle of Iraq but told through the lives of two families. Excellent characterisation and plot - and a page turner to boot. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: January 2009
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099507994

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David Adams was a QC in 1971 when Andrew Givings joined his chambers. There was quite an age difference between the two: Adams was 44 and established in his profession whilst Givings was only 29 and relatively new to law – but it didn't stop a strong friendship building up between the two families. Over the years Andrew Givings lost his love of law and entered the political arena, with Adams' eldest son, Matt, as his political adviser. As Givings rises up the political ladder Matt's younger brother, Jack, finds himself increasingly at odds with all that the families - and New Labour - stand for.

In this classy and elegant reworking of Antigone, we follow events through the eyes of Anna Adams, David's daughter and the only member of the family prepared to extend understanding to the wayward Jack. Throughout the story, we're aware that something dreadful has occurred which involves Jack in 2003, but we don't know what. We simply know that Anna, divesting herself of familial and political bonds, careless of the consequences, is determined that Jack's story shall be told.

It's difficult to think of anyone better qualified to tell this story. Melissa Benn is a campaigning journalist and outspoken critic of some government policies. She's also the daughter of Tony Benn and sister of Hilary and grew up with the politics. What lifts the book above the ordinary is that it's obvious that the background to the book is what she knows and has known all her life – it's not something built from research and enquiry. She saw Labour's reinvention of itself after the repeated election defeats, the landslide of 1997 and the unbelievable debacle of Iraq at first hand. One mark of Benn's skill is that I was never tempted to put real names to the fictional characters: this is definitely not a roman à clef.

It's not just the politics which she captures so well. She understands families and the ties which bind – or divide – them and her characters are compelling and believable. Her father is professionally successful beyond most men's dreams but personally cold and unapproachable. The picture of his lonely wife with her hand on his study door wanting company but afraid to make the approach told more than a thousand words could have done. The development of Andy Givings from the personable and fun young man to the hard-nosed politician with the killer instinct is perfection.

The interweaving of the stories of the Adams and Givings families is skilfully done and the more I read the more I came to the conclusion that too many authors produce books of technical brilliance but don't deliver a story which makes you want to turn the pages. I simply couldn't put this book down and it made me realise what I'd been missing.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

As I began reading I was put in mind of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday but One of Us has a lot more depth and there's less reliance on literary devices – but I think you might enjoy it all the same! It's not long since I read Crusaders by Richard T Kelly, which covers some of the same ground, but One of Us is far superior. For another book which looks at the divisions within families, we can recommend The Outcast by Sadie Jones. If you'd like to look at some non-fiction by Melissa Benn you'll find a review here.

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Buy One of Us by Melissa Benn at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy One of Us by Melissa Benn at


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