Please, someone give me a pound for every PR floozy who’s told me over breakfast that she’s ‘writing a novel’ about the dirty world of, er, PR. One minute you’re sucking up a nice creamy plate of scrambled eggs at the Wolseley, the next you’re trying to control your acid reflux. (But control it you must; she’s paying.)
I have spent so much time shuddering at the very thought of these ditzies’ unwritten books that to read Nicholas Coleridge’s splendidly realised tale of sexy beastliness in the world of corporate communications — and to find it captivating, pacy and scandalous — was a blessed relief. I cackled like a zany as I flipped the pages late into the night.
Miles Straker is a tyrant and a snob. His company, Straker Communications, specialises in keeping wealthy and glamorous clients either in or out of the newspapers. He prides himself on his superior taste, his fabulous garden parties and his powerful network of contacts. He makes it his business to be better briefed and better connected than the next man. He is also fond of a bunk-up with the next man’s wife. His tongue is by turns velvety and forked. He terrorises his family, and at home his favourite phrase is ‘I forbid it!’
Although he is essentially a bloodsucker, a tic on the skin of the wealthy and successful, Straker cannot bear to see anyone else doing better than him. In this he is reminiscent of Daniel Plainview, the anti-hero of the 2007 film There Will Be Blood (‘I have a competition in me … I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people …’) The rare situation he cannot directly control instantly whips up the gales of his fury.
His feud with the humble and decent Freeza Mart proprietor Ross Clegg is born when Clegg, an unsophisticated Midlands parvenu with a permatanned wife and a dumpy family dressed by the high street (ugh!), has sufficient bad taste and brass neck to build a chavvy mansion which blots the view from Straker’s own country pile. It escalates when Straker’s favourite son Archie knocks up one of Clegg’s daughters; and when Freeza Mart starts threatening the position of Straker Communications’ biggest client, well, that puts the tin hat on it.
Straker — part gorilla with mobile phone, part Iago with an expense account — pulls every string he can see in his attempt to discredit and humiliate Clegg. Eventually, of course, he pulls so many strings that the fabric of his own life starts to unravel. Coleridge’s finale, though high farce, is tinged with tragedy, as we see what becomes of a man who has been running on envy for far too long.
Coleridge is a pithy observer of social manners and the pitfalls of ambition at every level of society, and this book can be enjoyed both as a poolside bonkbuster and a wry satire on the worst toadyism of the Nu-Labour decade. (Which may make it a wonkbuster.) The shallow Miles is actually the roundest character, but he’s given a good run by Greg Clegg, Ross’ pompous prig of a son. He hankers for a parliamentary seat and spouts third-way socialist claptrap while decking out his council flat with Eames chairs. Sound familiar?