Wednesday 03 February 2010 | Book Reviews feed

Advertisement

Review: Alastair Campbell's novel Maya

Alastair Campbell's new novel Maya is littered with his anger with the media.

 
Alastair Campbell: Review: Alastair Campbell's novel Maya
Alastair Campbell's new novel Maya is littered with his anger with the media Photo: PA

I once met Alastair Campbell. It was at a party and I rather tentatively introduced myself wondering how I'd feel coming face to face with the man who, in my mind, had done more to damage our political system, our trust in intelligence, our global security and – just for good measure – the BBC than anyone on the planet. What would he really be like?

Well, of course, he was delightful. Articulate, intelligent, above all compelling. We chatted for about twenty minutes and I came away still doubtful but certainly charmed.

When I ask myself why I agreed to review his second novel, Maya, I suppose it was for much the same reason. But this time it was most definitely a mistake.

Nobody in their right mind wants to make an enemy of Alastair Campbell and this book is littered with objects of his wrath: celebrity magazines ("full of lies"), Sunday colour supplements, anchormen, Heat Magazine, the Sunday People, "woolly-pullover" regional TV programmes ... after this I fear that authors/screenwriters might be added to the list.

If you were to sum up this grim, rather bitter book in one sentence, it would be this. He who lives by the media, dies by the media (and then comes back to life ... and then quite possibly dies again).

Maya Lowe is a huge, Hollywood star, although one who spends a surprising amount of her time in Little Venice and on the Edgware Road.

She has an old school friend who works for a logistics company near Heathrow. I'm afraid I'm not quite sure what logistics is – and this book left me none the wiser.

Anyway, Steve Watkins is clearly in love with Maya and spends much of the book stalking her and almost destroying her in the mistaken belief that he is actually protecting her.

The main trouble is that both these characters are pretty hateful. Steve is the sort of bore who insists on telling you his dreams – which he does, three times (" ... my legs felt like they were filled with lead.")

He's more stirred by the news that Maya has been involved in a minor fracas on a plane than the fact that his wife has just discovered she's pregnant.

Later, he completely forgets her first scan as well as the tests that might show if the baby is handicapped or not. As for the actress, it's all "me, me, me" – or perhaps that should be "Maya, Maya, Maya".

You've never heard anyone moan so much and not just in the mandatory, embarrassing sex scene.

Often she uses the language of Campbell's alter-ego, Malcolm Tucker: "I am f***ed off. F***ed off with making films, f***ed off with fame, "f***ed off with you ..."

The theme of Maya is a fascinating one – and Campbell certainly succeeds in his depiction of twenty-four-hour news, the way an entire life can twist in the flames as events rush on.

But what is lacking is the wit and edge that Ben Elton might have brought to the table. Or even the tenderness and warmth of Richard Curtis's Notting Hill.

Campbell himself drowns in the media frenzy, at one stage devoting no fewer than eight and a half pages to a verbatim Sky news report, the facts of which we already know.

But one has to admire his chutzpah, launching this on the back of his much publicised performance at the Chilcot inquiry.

With an operator like Campbell can we believe the timing was coincidental? In years to come, it may well be we discover that the entire thing was convened simply to give him a new platform. Certainly, I can't think any other good will come of it.

In a way, I wish he'd been confronted with five critics rather than diplomats and historians. Because what's really surprising about Maya is that you can't believe a word of it.

Campbell seems to know almost nothing about the world of film and TV. And this is what our inquiry might ask:

+Mr Campbell, do you really think that an international film star would ever be persuaded to invest her own money in her films?

+Would she casually mention to the producer and the director of her next blockbuster that she was "trying" to get pregnant? And would they be "fine" with it?

+Can you name for us, please, a Five Live presenter who would be racist enough to doubt, on air, the word of "some random West Indian guy on a plane?"

+Have you ever met the agent of a multi-million dollar star who would tell her that he is too busy to deal with her problems because he is working with a more important client?

+Would anyone in the UK, in 1999 have made a film called "Please Miss?" From the title, do you really think it would succeed? Do we imagine that "An English Rose Abroad" and/or "The Hunter Hunted" would be huge Hollywood hits?

+And may I just ask you, Mr Campbell, are you seriously telling us that mountain eagles "croak"? That would surely be the prerogative of frogs.

But here's the funny thing. If all this were put to him, I know exactly what he'd say – because he's said it already. "I defend every single word".

You've got to admire him. You really do.

 
 
100 books of the decade
Top new novelists for 2010- BooksLife
BooksLife is a quarterly literary supplement for the Sunday Telegraph in association with Waterstones
Advertisement

MUST SEE

Must See Films

The week's must-see films, chosen by Sukhdev Sandhu and Tim Robey.

Culture Most Viewed

Over 25,000 members. Join for FREE
 

Sponsored Features

40 free prints with Photobox

New customers registering today will receive 40 prints for free. Order now.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sponsored Features

Telegraph ski hire offer

Save up to 40 per cent and have your ski equipment ready on arrival by booking in advance at Skiset.