The Dubya diaries

Hadley Freeman

The former and much missed (by comedians) president of the United States, George Bush, is to receive a rumoured $7-m advance for his autobiography.

There have probably been more English literature PhD papers written on “the unreliable narrator” than the sexuality of Shakespeare, but the literary trope has a less straightforward appeal in publishing. The former and much missed (by comedians) president of the United States, George Bush, is to receive a rumoured $7-m advance for his autobiography, or what will otherwise be referred to as $5m less than Bill Clinton got for his.

Fortunately, George knows someone who will be able to sympathise—his good lady wife who has reportedly received a mere $1,6-million for her memoirs, almost $6,5-million less than Hillary and less even than her mother-in-law got back in the last century.

Meanwhile, with the kind of synchronised timing that makes one think there is a divine plan after all, their literary superior Britney Spears has reportedly rejected pleas from three publishers to write her autobiography. If only George was a good guy, we could have turned this into a “what a world of skewed values we live in” piece.

Now, in the interests of clarity, George’s book isn’t strictly speaking an autobiography but rather a series of explanations of decisions he has taken, including why he gave up drinking and why he decided Dick Cheney was a good idea, without having to bother with that boring crap called “narrative”.

Think of it, as one suspects George does, as the York Notes to his autobiography.

Doesn’t it feel like George is being under-appreciated in his own time? For a start, he’ll surely throw a few jokes in and you just know they’ll be good ones. More events of interest happened under his watch than under Bill’s. His book should follow the traditional celebrity autobiography narrative arc, full of falls and redemption, a structure familiar to fans of, say, Nikki Sixx’s The Heroin Diaries—if perhaps—with fewer anecdotes involving shooting up at 8am. Gaps in narrative, lack of self-knowledge: such literary devices worked for Henry James and Daphne du Maurier, for example, and did they ever rule the free world?

With the tragic car crash in her teens, followed by a marriage into a conservative political dynasty, Laura’s life arguably offers up far more meat than Hillary’s political-manifesto-barely-disguised-as-autobiography ever was going to. You could say that the recent success of Curtis Sittenfeld’s brilliant novel, American Wife—a fictional autobiography of a former first lady, bearing a remarkable resemblance to Laura Bush—might have gazumped the real-life version, but with all those sex scenes I’d have thought it might have whetted collective appetites.

Commentators have been sneering about the Bush autobiographies for several months now, claiming neither will dish any real dirt. But seeing as celebrity autobiographies are the fastest growing sector of the books market, a desire for brutal honesty and self-knowledge doesn’t seem to be a concern of readers. Wayne Rooney has a £5m, five-book deal with HarperCollins and does anyone expect psychological depth here beyond “I like to kick a ball”? Peter Kay and Paul O’Grady are both publishing their second autobiographies, while poor Laura can barely get one off the ground. Also, I’d wager that George will do a lot less lying in his book than one finds in the average autobiography simply because he’s not lying—he is perhaps the last person in the world who actually believes what he says. Surely his autobiography can’t lack relevancy, as it would be nice to know why we’re all so screwed now. As was proven again and again throughout the Bush presidency, his caricature was an insufficient rendition of the reality. In short, we are looking at an Oval Office-based Forrest Gump and his Stepford wife. Georgie and Laura, our 2015 (can’t rush great writing, you know) depends on you. -

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