Welcome to our weekly Books Digest where we round-up the new books you should, and shouldn’t, be reading. This week features Andrew Roberts on George III, David Sedaris’ diaries and His Only Wife.
For more books take a look through our Books Digest Archive.
George III: The Life and Reign of Britain’s Most Misunderstood Monarch by Andrew Roberts (Penguin), £35 or free with a Reaction subscription.
As a child, I remember leafing through my children’s book of English monarchs and pausing with interest on the chapter on George III. The puffy-faced Hanoverian was pictured chatting to an oak he believed to be Frederick the Great. Whilst the tree was certainly friendlier than the standoffish Prussian, it sadly reflects a King best known today for his madness, losing America, and providing the villain in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton musical. Andrew Roberts’ triumphant new biography clears the name of the monarch known to “glory in the name of Briton”.
Following his masterful biography of Winston Churchill, Roberts has delved in 200,000 papers recently released from the Royal Archives to clarify a historical picture clouded by George’s eloquent parliamentary opponents, Victorian Whigs, and an unnervingly catchy musical. The myths around George III are comprehensively busted.
Contrary to Alan Bennett, George did not suffer from porphyria but bipolar disorder. “Farmer” George was no dunce: he accumulated an impressive library and scientific instrument collection, sponsored the Royal Academy and the astronomer Herschel (who wished to name Uranus in his honour). He was a misunderstood intellectual, marred by misreadings of history.
Sign up for our FREE Reaction Weekend Email
Read the week's best-read articles on politics, business and geopolitics
Receive offers and exclusive invites
Plus uplifting cultural commentary
The book’s highlight is Roberts’ passionate line-by-line refutation of 28 accusations levelled at George in the Declaration of Independence. The irony, Roberts makes clear, is that the American Revolution would have been more easily suppressed had George been the tyrant Thomas Jefferson painted him out to be.
This is an excellent read, and correction of reputation, as one would expect from Andrew Roberts.
A Carnival of Snackery: Diaries 2003-2020 by David Sedaris (Little, Brown Group), £20.
There are very few people who could make seventeen years of musings on daily life interesting. The American humorist, David Sedaris, is one of them. Following on from his 2018 diary Theft by Finding 1997-2002, A Carnival of Snackery is Sedaris’ occasionally rewritten but mostly “left intact” diaries from 2003-2020. Jumping from his glamorous metropolitan life in New York, London and Paris to his weird and wonderful adventures around the world on his book tours, it is hard not to be envious of Sedaris’ life. This is something the writer is increasingly aware of, playing up his privilege and satirising his own existence throughout the book – “When the pandemic hit, my first thought wasn’t Oh, those poor dying people but What about my airline status?” he writes. “At what point did my airline status come to determine my identity?”
Around three-quarters of the way through the mammoth 566 pages, I couldn’t resist skipping to 2020, desperate to see the dreadful events of the last two years through Sedaris’ eyes. Sadly, even one of the funniest men in America can’t quite put a good spin on the coronavirus crisis.
Sedaris effortlessly jumps between the trivial and the serious throughout his diaries. The pages are littered with obscene jokes he collects at his book signings, but there are serious topics too; his ageing father, their fractured relationship, BLM protests, America’s gun problem and gay rights. “I saw two men with their arms around eachother,” he writes from London in May 2016, “I could never have done that when I was their age… how different young gay people’s lives are today. How wonderful.” The diaries are a must-read for David Sedaris fans.
His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie (Oneworld publications), £8.99.
A millennial tale of modern Ghana, His Only Wife, explores themes of power, love and feminism through the lens of Afi Tekple, a young seamstress living with her widowed mother in Accra. Afi is given the prized gift of social elevation through an arranged marriage to Elikem Ganyo, the son of a wealthy family who most of the town work for. The marriage is arranged by the Ganyo family’s tiger mother who hopes the relationship will force her son to leave the mother of his child, the mysterious Muna.
Independent and aspirational, Afi grapples with the benefits of her elevated status and the loneliness from marrying a man so aloof he doesn’t even attend their marriage ceremony. The pressures and hierarchies of Ghanian society are aptly explored by Medie as Afi finds herself battling between what she wants and what her mother and the Ganyo family want for her. Medie, a Gender and International Politics lecturer at The University of Bristol, writes with clear feminist reference and an insightful understanding of Ghanian culture. The book, however, is let down by its ending, setting itself up for a climax or plot twist which never comes.
An easy and at times humorous read, Medie’s book is an impressive debut. Her colourful writing promises brilliant novels to follow.