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Another little reading project of mine: as well as reading the best-selling novels of 100 year ago, as I have done this year and last year, I decided to try the best-selling novel of 50 years ago, a political tale by a long-serving Washington journalist, which soon after (1962) became a film starring Henry Fonda and Charles Laughton (the latter's last role before he died).

The plot concerns the nomination of a new Secretary of State by an ailing President whose party controls both Senate and House; the nomination runs into difficulties because of the nominee's alleged Communist past. But the young Senator from Utah who is most responsible for holding up the process is himself concealing a wartime gay love affair. High drama ensues, with a memorable series of denouements of which the least spoilerish that I can reveal is a Soviet moon landing the week before the Americans would have got there.

I thought it was excellent. There are a number of well delineated characters - the Majority Leader, the ancient Senator from South Carolina, the Mormon with a past, the demagogue, the guy who wanted to be President, the President himself. The Senate is a microcosm of 100 people (99 men and one woman at that time), each with roles to play both officially and privately. Advise and Consent is an incisive description of how politics operates at that highest level, when personality as well as facts and ideology come into play. I found it difficult to put down.

It has its weaknesses. The reported vehemently pro-appeasement views of the nominee for Secretary of State - and indeed the public support he gets for them - seemed to me unrealistic, though I wasn't around in the 1960s so I may not know. It's possible that Drury was reversing the political reality, as he does with the Joe McCarthy character who is a left-winger rather than a right-winger. There are four ambassadors who are minor characters; it seemed peculiar to me that they get called together twice to give the key Senators their views of what the rest of the world thinks - normal practice, round here at any rate, would be to see them separately, but of course that doesn't work for a novel like this. Also they seem to be accredited to the UN as well as to Washington but that may have been normal in 1960.

But I was able to roll with the main flow and greatly enjoy the book. Apparently the Pulitzer Prize Committee in 1960 recommended that the award go to Henderson the Rain King; the main board, however, overruled them and gave it to Advise and Consent instead, and rightly so.

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