Book Review: Helen Clark: Inside Stories, by Claudia Pond Eyley and Dan Salmon

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_helen_clark_inside_storiesHelen Clark needs little introduction, but for those reading this blog from the far side of Mars, let’s recall that she was NZ’s first elected female Prime Minister, before that a politician, a political activist and is now a high-ranking United Nations official.

There are many events in her career which are still matters of controversy. And just how was she so effective? What’s the ‘inside story’? This book seeks to answer many of the questions about Helen Clark, and the events that she was part of, in the words of those who know her, and were part of it all. This is a worthy aim: much of that period is still quite murky. What really happened in the 1984 Labour government to send it lurching off in an unexpected economic direction? What about ‘paintergate’? How was the foreshore and sea-bed furore managed?

The book has its origins in Pond Eyley and Salmon’s documentary Helen, which has been on TV a couple of times, and screened at documentary film festivals. Claudia Pond Eyley is a visual artist and film maker, and Dan Salmon is a documentary director and producer. While putting Helen together during 2012-13, they interviewed many of those who know Helen Clark best. This book is formed from transcripts of these interviews, with short linking passages introducing each chapter.

The range of participants is astonishing: from Clark’s parents and sisters to political colleagues and foes. They include friends, her husband, teachers, mentors, staff, journalists, lobbyists and commentators. I was very impressed by the range of participants – it must have taken a tremendous amount of work to get all these people to cooperate.

The coverage is obvious: Helen Clark’s life, from birth in the Waikato to the UN in New York. The organisation is, for the most part, simply chronological. Chapter titles tell the story: Chapter 1: Country girl to left-wing liberal; Chapter 2: Getting extremely involved in politics; Chapter 3: Meeting Peter; Chapter 4: MP for Mount Albert, and so on to Chapter 18: New York City.

Helen Clark is renowned as not only a skilled politician, but a very private person. The greatest contribution of the book is to get inside these protective barriers and reveal something at least of her ways of thinking and working, her relationships with people, and her motivations. Naturally some contributors verge on hagiography, and some have political axes to grind, but neither tendency is so powerful as to detract from the interest in what they have to say.

The book lives up to its sub-title – there are inside stories here. But this genre of recorded oral history has some limitations. There was a nagging doubt at the back of my mind about how much editing the interviews had been through. These are not verbatim transcripts, and there isn’t any indication of how much has been omitted. There’s some repetition of course: the 1984 Labour government rejection of its assumed economic policy features in several stories, but the stories don’t form a coherent picture and the reader is left perhaps with more data, more insight into Clark’s role, but not a lot more insight about the big picture.

This book is interesting, in places amusing and often enlightening. By design it doesn’t attempt to interpret, analyse or synthesise. We still don’t have the sort of analytical, independent biography that Helen Clark, and the events she has been part of, deserve. This book may be part of that later volume’s source material.

Helen Clark: Inside Stories
by Claudia Pond Eyley and Dan Salmon
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408381

Book Review: Play on: Now, then, and Fleetwood Mac: the autobiography by Mick Fleetwood and Anthony Bozza

Available in bookstores nationwide.

Acv_mick_fleetwood_play_ont just over 300 pages, this is not a small book by any means; it’s nicely produced by Hodder and Stoughton with a good sized font and excellent spacing.

I am not sure what I was expecting when I started this book, but what I got was both more and less – more in that it’s clearly about the entity that is Fleetwood Mac, but very much through the eyes of Mick Fleetwood who finds it impossible to separate himself from the band. And less, in that I did not find it an appealing read. I think it’s partly the writing style, which is Anthony Bozza’s – he’s been a journalist for Rolling Stone for a long time and has published several books on famous rock musicians and bands. The journalistic style comes through and makes for a somewhat disjointed read, and I do think the whole book could have been improved by some judicious editing!

That said, I learned a lot about Fleetwood Mac, and in particular Mick Fleetwood’s passion and drive to keep this band going. Unfortunately, I learned way more than I ever need to know about the drug and alcohol intake of Fleetwood Mac band members and the impact that had on them as a band, and the effect it had on their relationships. To be fair though, it’s clear that at least some of their work was inspired while under the influence of various substances and the musical world would not be as rich without their amazing output.

It’s true that a band like this is a creature which needs to be nurtured, and which becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Many of the bands from this time probably have similar experiences, particularly if they are still together. There’s an intensity in creating and performing which can push everything else into the background, and which has – as with Fleetwood Mac – a damaging effect on interpersonal relationships.

I kept getting irritated – it must be my age – by the behaviour and the apparent lack of responsibility shown in particular by Mick Fleetwood, and felt increasingly sorry for his first wife, Jenny. But despite all of that, the band survived and are still playing. That’s some kind of record, no pun intended.

Overall, for me, an interesting but unsatisfying book.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Play on: Now, then, and Fleetwood Mac: the autobiography
by Mick Fleetwood and Anthony Bozza
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN 9781444753257

Book Review: The Life and Loves of a He Devil – a Memoir, by Graham Norton

Available in book stores nationwide.

Graham Norton would have to be one of the most wcv_the_life_and_loves_of_a_he_devilell-known television personalities of our time. He was born in Clondalkin, a suburb of Dublin in Ireland. Graham first came to our attention playing Father Noel Furlong in the well- loved television show Father Ted, and currently stars in the hilarious The Graham Norton Show.

This book gallops through Graham’s rather outlandish life, beginning with his 50th birthday celebrations, after which he decided it was time to write another book – 10 years is a long time between books.

Growing up in Ireland, Graham always thought that he was out of step because he was a Protestant in the deep dark jungle of Roman Catholic Ireland, not because he considered that he may be gay. That revelation came rather later – everybody else knew before he did. This book covers everything from Dogs, to Divas; Booze, to Men; and Things he loves to Hate.

This book is a riotous celebration of his loves and loathes − it is not a book for prudes, as Graham doesn’t hold back on his many sexual conquests or what he thinks about particular guests he has had on his shows over the years. I have watched The Graham Norton Show on television over the years and quite frankly he is a brilliantly funny man –read the book and find out more.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Life and Loves of a He Devil – a Memoir
by Graham Norton
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN 9781444790269

Ed’s note: The review copy of this book came with a lovely Sauvignon Blanc, reportedly squished by Graham’s own feet…