Summer Loving; and A Recipe for Love, by Nicola Yaeger

Summary: rom-coms that show us how the world can be a better place

Once, many years ago, when he was still “The Joan Collins’ Fan Club”, I went to see a performance by Julian Clary. Large chunks of his material were old jokes, deliberately chosen, and with charm and elegance he would imbue every other line with salacious double entendres. I don’t think I laughed as much that whole year… but it was Belfast in the middle of the Troubles when it rained all the time. So there was that.

I was reminded of that Julian Clary show reading Nicola Yaeger’s books: they are unashamed romantic comedies, so you know pretty much what the plot is going to be from the first page. That is the nature of romantic comedies – apart from The Love Letter: man that is the bleakest romantic comedy I have ever sat through. Don’t watch it if you are feeling fragile. Try something more light-hearted like Calvary instead.

Because sometimes the joyful assurance of the romantic comedy is exactly what you need: when I worked in Angola during the civil war there I used to hire a pile of romantic comedy movies every weekend just to have something to remind me that there were kinder places and people than the warlords who plagued one of the most beautiful countries on earth.

But I digress. Much as Ms Yaeger occasionally does in her wonderfully entertaining books. Read these and you’ll learn about art, Eastern European tall tales, surfing, and cooking in such a way as to make you want to book a surfing lesson or buy a new book about French cuisine.

Nicola Yaeger is a charming and extremely funny writer, the sort who rarely bothers with the double bit of the entendre. Like Julian Clary at his best, like all of literature if we are being honest, she retells old stories in elegant, new ways, reminding us there are kinder places and people out there, people who will make you laugh and care about your well-being.

In a world full of complete feckers who are busy brexiting up our fragile planet for all they are worth, it is good to be reminded of this sometimes. And Nicola Yeager does that in glorious fashion.

Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America, by Maggie Haberman

Summary: portrait of a fascist as a fat man

The character of Biff Tannen in Back to the Future is based on Donald Trump: bullying, lazy, greedy, misogynistic. Confidence Man traces the original Biff’s career from the corrupt world of New York real estate to the American presidency.

It is a depressing story, but, in hindsight, seems almost inevitable now. Because, enabled by his overweening sense of entitlement and his daddy’s money, Trump has one talent that Biff lacked. As the title of Haberman’s absorbing book suggests, Trump has the instincts of a grifter. Like Giovanni Ribisi’s character in the short lived, but highly entertaining, series, Sneaky Pete, it is Trump’s instinct every time he is caught in one lie to double down with another, to meet every attack with a counter attack, and, where possible, to get his retaliation in first. 

According to Haberman Trump was once told, “You’re really very shallow.” “Yes” he agreed, “that is my strength.”

Everything is a transaction to Trump in a zero sum game. For him to win there must be a loser. Love, selflessness, compassion, empathy are meaningless to him. Haberman reports Former White House chief of staff, retired Marine General John Kelly, describing Trump as “the most flawed person” he had ever known. 

Yet enough Americans confuse Trump’s brand of meanness with strength to vote to award this revolting human being the Presidency.

Not that Trump ever understood the role he had won in a constitutional system. Again and again in this book he is described as unable to comprehend why he is not permitted to do the unlawful. How he yearns for the unconstrained power of a Putin or a Hitler. Nevertheless even corralled by the law and the constitution, Trump and his acolytes still managed to do more damage to the concept of “government of the people, by the people and for the people”, than the entire Confederate army.

Haberman’s fine book is not just an explanation of Trump but also a warning: given the chance again this bloated fascist will reek further chaos.

Northern Heist, by Richard O’Rawe

Summary: nasty men doing nasty things, nastily

At Christmas 2004 the IRA robbed the Northern Bank, putting the Peace Process, not for the first time, in jeopardy.

Taking that incident as his inspiration, with Northern Heist Richard O’Rawe has imaginatively reconstructed how a bunch of professional criminals would go about robbing the “National Bank”. This fictional institution occupies much of the same physical space as the Northern Bank that was actually robbed in Belfast. And, this being Belfast, of course, their shenanigans do not go unnoticed by the Provisionals who want a cut of any action the criminals manage to obtain.

With its focus on deeply unsympathetic criminals, particularly its anti-hero James “Ructions” O’Hare, Northern Heist reminded me of Richard Stark’s Parker novels. Its depictions of the Belfast underworld also echo with Maurice Leitch’s classic novel, Silver’s City. 

Overall, Northern Heist is very fine work from O’Rawe.