I’ve been fascinated by US politics since the US primaries when I became interested in the Bernie Sanders campaign. This coincided with the run up to the Brexit referendum. Despite being a political anorak, I couldn’t get engaged in the depressingly content-free ‘debate’ that was taking place here.
I started listening to US podcasts (NPR Politics was my gateway drug, though my current favourite is Pod Save America). I went for Sanders but stayed for Trump, watching (or rather listening to) events unfold with fascinated horror. We have a right-wing government that is both dreary and incompetent, but at least Trump is only one of those.
So the publication of Fire and Fury (brought forward in response to Trump’s threat of legal action) was like my version of queuing up at midnight for the new Harry Potter. I’ve never paid anywhere near £13.99 for an ebook before, and probably won’t again, but it’s a book of the moment and I wanted to be part of it.
Was it worth it? I’m not sure. Most of the key revelations have already appeared in the media. There’s not much that was new to me, and nothing that was surprising, but having it laid out as one coherent narrative was a useful and oddly entertaining way of having the full horror of our situation reinforced. (I know I’m not American but Trump and his big red button loom over us all.) It’s quite readable and I even laughed out loud a few times. What stayed with me, chillingly, is the number of people, across all factions, willing to collude to keep a clearly incompetent man in power for their own ends.
The book relies on a number of sources and Wolff explains that the extent to which they were on the record is ambiguous, in part because the White House had no clear procedures in place. The later chapters in particular rely heavily on Bannon’s perspective. His criticism is most intense while discussing the role of the Trump family, especially Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner (Jarvanka). While it’s not hard to believe his portrayal of the foolishness and naked self-interest of Jarvanka, I felt the need to pause and step back.
It’s like when you’re reading a chapter in a crime novel which is narrated by the antagonist and get so caught up in the story you suddenly realise you’re cheering on a serial killer. Bannon, as represented in this book, is an evil genius, but recent events (such as the defeat of his preferred candidate, racist and alleged paedophile Roy Moore in Alabama) indicate that he may not be (a genius, that is).
There are a couple of things that annoy me. Wolff seems to have taken on one of the traits of his subject, writing long, rambling sentences with more clauses than Donald Trump has had Diet Cokes. And the book is riddled with errors. I don’t mean factual errors, I’ll leave others more qualified to comment on those. I mean typos, misspellings, words added or missed out, the basic stuff that would lead to fire and fury being rained down on an indie author on a budget flogging a novel for 99p. I know the book came out in a hurry but I would expect such a profitable title to have been within an awkward hand-hold of a copy editor.
Should you buy it? If you’re really absorbed in the soap opera, like me, then you probably won’t want to miss out. Otherwise you can read the key points in the media coverage and wait to pick it up second hand or in the library. But by then it will no doubt have been superseded by even more strange events.