Sunday January 13, 2013
Review: How I Killed Margaret Thatcher
Review by SHARIL DEWA
How I Killed Margaret Thatcher
Author: Anthony Cartwright
Publisher: Tindal Street Press, 247 pages
JUDAS Iscariot’s here, look. Here comes Judas Iscariot.”
Growing up in a close-knit working class family in the industrial Midlands of England, nine-year-old Sean Bull knows nothing of family feuds – until the day Margaret Thatcher comes to power as Britain’s first female prime minister and Sean’s grandfather finds out that a member of the family had voted for her, the Judas Iscariot of the .
On the surface Anthony Cartwright’s novel deals with the consequences of the betrayal of a family’s long-standing political leanings, the underlying story is about the effect the Thatcherite government had on the lives of a large percentage of the British population. The novel serves as a reminder that before the rise of globalisation and the ubiquity of cheap consumer goods from China, Britain was a manufacturing nation.
It is at the tail end of the British manufacturing boom in the industrial Midlands town of Dudley that How I Killed Margaret Thatcher is set.
Sean’s family – his parents, grandparents and traitorous Uncle Eric – all come from a long line of factory workers, making things with the “Made In England” stamp that are sold domestically and exported internationally.
When Thatcher comes to power, the eventual closure of factories and the start of the high rate of unemployment for factory workers is just the beginning of the end for the Bull family.
Typical of the era and class system, working class men go to work while their wives stay at home to look after the family. It is no different for the Bull family. Dependent on the earning power of one person to maintain a growing family and provide occasional assistance to the grandparents, the Bull family finds that money is always tight.
Sean doesn’t fully understand the problems until he overhears his parents talking about the lack of money and the possibility that his dad’s job in the factory could be on the line. It is not long after this “adult talk” that Sean learns that his Uncle Eric is not the only political traitor in the family; someone else in his family may have also voted for Mrs Thatcher.
As the novel progresses, economical, financial and political matters begin to affect the Bull family, and Sean, trying to comprehend the changing political and economical landscape around him, develops a very personal hatred of Margaret Thatcher.
How I Killed Margaret Thatcher is told from Sean’s point of view, and Cartwright does a good job of employing an element of naïve innocence. For instance, he hones Sean’s comprehension of the political and economical world around him down to simple logic: if Sean’s dad loses his job, it is because of Margaret Thatcher, and if his dad loses his job, Sean will not be able to get the next cool thing that makes its way around the school yard, and this would definitely be the fault of Margaret Thatcher.
Thus, as the novel progresses so too does Sean’s hatred for Margaret Thatcher. His hatred grows to the point that he becomes determined to do as the title of the novel suggests: kill Margaret Thatcher.
While the title is admittedly eye catching, How I Killed Margaret Thatcher has nothing to do with an actual assassination attempt on the Iron lady. Rather, it is Cartwright’s rant about and point of view (disguised as that of his nine-year-old protagonist) of the Thatcherite era and its effects on Britain’s working class population.
The novel is shot through with pieces of local history, familial love and touching childhood moments, held together with steel rivets of righteous anger forged in the ailing factories of the Midlands. The insight this book contains makes it both an exceedingly enjoyable work of fiction and an interesting take on recent British social history; through it Cartwright explains Thatcher’s role in shaping many of the social problems of today, and puts the lie to many right-wing assumptions of working class laziness that still persist.
Despite its political leanings, How I Killed Margaret Thatcher can be described as a social commentary on the state of Britain (and perhaps the world) today.
Though the manner in which Cartwright presents his novel may not be appealing to everyone (there’s no proper intonation for dialogue, and the bulk of the novel belongs to Sean’s internal monologue), How I Killed Margaret Thatcher is an easier novel to read than Cartwright’s previous offerings, Heartland and The Afterglow.
Margaret Thatcher is still not the easiest book to get into but for those who enjoy their novels with a socialist and political slant, this would make for interesting reading.