I am often surprised at the way books connect with my experience.
To read myself into the festive spirit, I’ve just started Cyril Hare’s 1951 novel ‘An English Murder’. I expected to be reading a Country House mystery set amongst the English aristocracy at Christmas in 1950. What I didn’t expect was to find, in the first chapter, politics that connects to how I’m feeling in 2020.
The book opens with Dr Bottwink, a German professor of history, talking to Briggs, the butler of an English country house. We already know that, as well as studying and teaching in Heidelberg and Prague, the professor spent some time in a German concentration camp. It is a few days from Christmas and the professor wants to know if he should eat with the guests or the servants over Christmas. He’s told he will eat with the guests. He’s happy with this until he learns that the son of the household and heir to the country house, will be present. The professor then tells the butler that he would rather eat with the servants. The following exchange occurs as the professor explains himself to Briggs, the butler, by saying that the son is:
‘…the president of this affair that calls itself the League of Liberty and Justice?’
‘I understand that to be the fact, sir.’
‘The League of Liberty and Justice, Briggs,’ said Dr Bottwink very clearly and deliberately, ‘is a Fascist organisation.’
‘Is that so, sir?’
‘You are not interested, Briggs?’
‘I have never been greatly interested in politics, sir.’
‘Oh, Briggs, Briggs,’ said the historian, shaking his head in regretful admiration, ‘if you only knew how fortunate you were to be able to say just that!’
If I had read that five years ago, I might have smiled and moved on to the next chapter.
In this year, when my country is impaling itself on Brexit in pursuit of a powerless sovereignty because people who knew nothing about the EU and cared less, voted to leave, I feel I understand the professor perfectly. Brexit has taught me that not being interested in politics is a luxury we can no longer afford.
So, instead of smiling and moving on, I’m shaking my head ruefully and hoping the Fascist aristo is the one who dies on Christmas Eve.