what to read while #ausvotes

When I was a doe-eyed 17-year old I was so excited by the prospect of my first opportunity to vote that I put my name on the electoral roll early just in case an election was called before my birthday for a date after my birthday. I was, apparently, only the second person ever to take advantage of the little known clause in the legislation at my local electoral office (for the record, it worked, I voted in a state election a mere 12 days after my 18th birthday).

Old and new Parliament Houses, Canberra

25 and a half years later the gloss has well and truly worn off my excitement about voting. I still devour political news on TV and in print, watch every minute of election-night coverage and yes am following #ausvotes on twitter. But these days all this news-following is accompanied with more cynicism than anticipation.

I hate being one of those “all politicians are equally unethical and you can’t trust any of ’em” moaners but that’s where I’m at. We only have two major parties, one of whom will form government and both of which are currently being led by people who usurped their party’s respective leaderships in what can only be called slimy circumstances. Both have also apparently hired the same advertising agency and speech writers as ‘moving forward’ is clearly the buzz phrase of the 3-day old campaign. Its constant repetition is already a more annoying noise than the world cup’s vuvuzelas. I guess the parties assume that if they repeat it often enough we’ll all forget the pretty miserable way they have behaved in the past few months. And even if we don’t, who else are we gonna vote for (and in Australia we have compulsory voting so we have to vote for someone or pay a fine)?

But as this blog isn’t about politics I do have a reading-related point. Well actually a favour to ask. I need some recommendations.

What great political themed fiction should I read over the next 5 weeks?

Can you recommend a book that takes place during a political campaign?

Or perhaps one where a candidate gets brutally, horribly mutilated (I know it’s mean but it’s better I read about it than do it to my local member who will once again be elected from our very safe seat despite having morals that an alley cat would look down upon)?

Or can you suggest something that will rekindle my faith in the democratic process?

Looking forward to your suggestions.

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15 Responses to what to read while #ausvotes

  1. Norman says:

    Bernadette reading this for one minute I thought I had done a guest blog for you. It seems politicians are the same everywhere, and the phrase “slimy circumstances” certainly fits the formation of our new coalition government.
    The party manifestos issued before the election campaign could well qualify for a crime fiction award. They were fiction and it is criminal how each of the coalition parties have gone back on virtually everything they said before the election.
    Good luck.
    Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men might be an good read at election time.


  2. Does this mean that you were once a doe-eyed 17 year old girl Norman? Seriously though it’s sad to think that politics has become such a rotten business everywhere, though lord knows what the alternative is. Benevolent dictatorships all round?


  3. Marita says:

    Haven’t read the book but the BBC series House of Cards was delicious. What could be more appropriate than a PM with the initials FU ? The Francis Urquart books are by Michael Dobbs. (michaeldobbs.com)


  4. Dorte H says:

    I don´t read much about politics (in my spare time, that is), but my current WIP does include an election campaign though it is not a major theme – and you could say one of the crimes takes place for political reasons. I don´t think that is what my readers will remember afterwards, though.

    In Denmark we have several parties – mainly the huge and influential ones, and then there are the small parties with some honest (ideological) politicians.


  5. Bernadette – I know exactly how you feel about politicians. Some things transcend boundaries. I, too, get tired of what I see in politics these days.. As far as suggestions go, I think Norman’s is a good one. And then, there’s Margaret Truman’s Murder at the Kennedy Center. That one takes place during a U.S. presidential campaign, and all sort of dirty secrets get exposed.


  6. Maxine says:

    Hear hear. Ages ago, I read most novels by Richard North Patterson. Set in the USA they started out as legal thrillers but morphed into political thrillers, featuring the US President, etc, and usually a moral or ethical legal dilemma at the heart. I haven’t read the last few as they got a bit doorstoppy and ponderous (in that way that only US novels can be!) but I did like the earlier ones, in particular there is one about a Presidential campaign by a Kennedy-like figure called Kerry someone.
    The best political thriller I have read, I think, is The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon. Did not like his other books or the films (2) based on this book.
    A British suggestion is A Very British Coup by Chris Mullan, an ex-labour MP. Written at the height of Thatcher’s “rule”, it presented a sort of Labour/socialist utopia at a time when nobody could ever imagine Labour ever winning an election again as they were so dopey (then they invented Spin…eeeeuch!). The book was not as good as the very good TV series starring the late Ray McAnally (McAnally?) – it is available on DVD but I have never bought it as too expensive. I saw it live at the time, tough. The beginning (political thriller) is better than the end (spies, armies etc).

    One of my favourite (guilty read) authors is Philip Margolin, and he has begun to venture from the purely legal to the political thriller in recent novels.

    I hope you find something you like to read. I am afraid I haven’t thought of any Australian thrillers, but there is always Neville Shute….

    (PS I was not so keen on those Michael Dobbs books, btw, a bit too arch, but each to her own.)


  7. Rob says:

    Well ‘Saving Siobhan’, my book without a home, was originally called ‘Election Fever’ – corrupt politicians, gangsters etc. One day it might see the light, but not until well after the next 5 weeks. And the next McEvoy novel is all about planning and politics. As are Peter Temple’s Jack Irish novels. You could always catch up on Shane Maloney if you’ve not already devoured them. Primary Colors is pretty good. The Ghost by Robert Harris is a crime novel – ghost writer of ex-British PM murdered … a slow start, but I thought was good.


  8. Being another Austalian I am right there with you. I actually have to admit that I didn’t have a problem with Rudd, but then I equally don’t have a problem with Julia Gillard. I know its sounds cliche – but its politics, what more can we expect? I do on the other hand have a problem with Abbot, the thought of him makes my skin crawl.

    I love your line about comparing the ‘moving forward’ catch phrase to the vuvuselas. Hope you don’t mind if I borrow it 🙂

    On a book to read – the one that straight away came to mind was Power Without Glory by Frank Hardy. I haven’t read it myself but its sitting on my TBR shelf. Its about a businessman in Melbourne who is also a big person in the Labor Party. Its a look at political corruption basically. Hardy was actually sued because of one of the sotry lines in this book (a poltician’s wife having an affair) because it was supposedly based on real life.

    Thought it might be an appropriate read leading up to an election?


  9. kathy durkin says:

    Agree on Philip Margolin’s books which are political thrillers these days. Also, but about a state election is “The Appeal,” by John Grisham about a judge’s election campaign and the corporate machine in action to stop/promote a particular candidate and the sleazy reasons and people running it. It’s interesting.
    It’s rather astounding to me that voting in Australia is compulsory or you pay a fine. Is it a big fine? Are there third parties running in counter to the two big parties, so that one could even cast a protest vote? This is true here in the U.S. where a lot of parties are on the ballot, although third parties have a hard time getting on it, having to circulate petitions and get thousands of signatures to do so. And if one votes for a third party, does that eliminate the fine?
    It’s rather undemocratic to force people to vote; many may feel there is no candidate they support.


  10. Thanks for the suggestions everyone. Some great classics there, I can’t believe I’ve never read The Manchurian Candidate as I do love the original version of the film. I’ll see which else of these I can track down. I have read Power Without Glory and found it marvellous.

    Kathy as for compulsory voting I should clarify and say all you really have to do is get your name ticked off the list as having turned up to the polling booth, after that you could scribble on the ballot paper if you like (yes we still have ballot papers, no voting machines in Oz). The fine is currently $110 and if you don’t pay you end up in small claims court. One of the main reasons we have it here is our very small population – only 26 million people, of whom I assume abouot a third are under age – if it weren’t compulsory to vote I suspect we’d be lucky to muster much more than a handful of voters (Aussies are a pretty apathetic lot).

    There are independent candidates and one main minor party (The Greens) though we have preferential voting here which means that even if I vote for a Green candidate when he/she doesn’t get enough votes my vote will be counted for the next person on my list of preferences. Eventually you end up voting for one of the main two parties (which roughly equate to the Republicans and Democrats in the US or Conservative and Labor in the UK). Sucks to be us eh?


  11. Bronwyn says:

    ‘Race’ by Richard North Patterson is an interesting read. It’s set during a Republican Primary and deals with the political machinations behind the scenes. The central character is a “liberal” Republican who is opposed to the increasing influence of the religious right and corporate power within the republican party. Occasionally a little clunky but quite chilling in its depiction of power politics.


  12. kathy durkin says:

    The elections are interesting. I’d be quite annoyed if I voted for the Greens, let’s say and my vote went to a big, pro-corporate party candidate. Geez, is anyone working on election reform?
    Anyway, “The Appeal” by John Grisham, is a quick, easy read about corporate purchasing and wheeling-and-dealing for a state election campaign. I learned a bit reading it, although it was appalling.
    Am loving “Gunshot Road,” by the way, am leisurely savoring every delicious morsel of words and ideas, not racing through it as I would read a thriller. (My only difficulty: I need a glossary.) If only more books were as well-written.


  13. bibliolathas says:

    I second the suggestions for Primary Colours and the Murray Whelan series by Shane Maloney. I also enjoyed Farthing by Jo Walton (set in the UK) – a country house murder with a political coup at its heart.


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