Outrageous satire unnervingly close to facts

A mural depicts US President Donald Trump (right) blowing marijuana smoke into the mouth of...
A mural depicts US President Donald Trump (right) blowing marijuana smoke into the mouth of Russian President Vladimir Putin on the wall of a restaurant in Vilnius, Lithuania.PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Peter Stupples reviews Kompromat by Stanley Johnson. Published by Oneworld.

Having recently read Luke Harding's Collusion: How Russia Helped Trump Win the White House, I was surprised so soon to come across many of the same characters and overlapping plot-work in another book published at almost the same moment but already "in development for a major TV Series''.

Stanley Johnson's Kompromat (translated from Russian as "compromising material'') is promoted as "a satirical thriller'' but reads rather as scurrilous satire without the thrill of the chase or the unsuspected ending.

While Harding's book purported to be investigative journalism based upon insufficiently documented "facts'' that ultimately reads as fiction, Johnson's reads as outrageous satire that often seems unnervingly close to the facts.

Johnson takes it for granted that his president of the Russian Federation, Popov (Pop Off? aka Putin), has the rest of the world as his plaything: the Russian secret services are ahead of the game in every sphere of political engagement.

The candidate for the office of President of the United States, Ron Craig (aka Trump), is a fool but malleable in his likeable daughter's hands.

The Chinese are wily but outmatched.

The British are too clever for words.

The rest of the world scarcely exists.

The plot centres about Russia's manipulation of the presidential elections in the US and the Brexit referendum in the UK, all with the aim of weakening the resolve and unity of the West and allowing Popov a free hand in the former Soviet sphere of influence.

The fantasy centres on a campaign to save the Amur tiger, supported by Russia, the US and the UK (all "conservationists'' at heart).

Craig, Popov and a somewhat naive British minister, track a tiger in Eastern Siberia as a publicity stunt.

The tiger leaps at Craig who is defended by the stun gun of Popov for which Craig is, of course, eternally grateful.

But when he is being treated in a Siberian hospital by a Chinese-speaking doctor, he has inserted in parts of his anaesthetised body both Chinese and Russian microchips that go on to record his every conversation.

As all the intelligence agencies double-cross and hack each other, Craig's intentions to unleash armageddon in cahoots with the Russians, should he be elected President, is known to all (and will serve as the subject, perhaps, of the TV second series).

In the meantime, as they say, the British Prime Minister, Jeremy Hartley (aka David Cameron) falls from grace after the results of the referendum on membership of the EU.

He is succeeded by Mabel Killick (Kill It? aka Theresa May), who is portrayed as being as ruthless as Popov.

But then, as it turns out, Hartley the Remainer had always wanted to lose the referendum as he is really a Leaver, while Killick acts as a Leaver Prime Minister but is planning for Brexit to fail as she is really a Remainer.

The deviousness of the British is so corkscrewed that no-one, not even the Russians, and certainly not the ordinary British citizen (who does not even have a walk-on part in the narrative) know what is really going on.

All this plus an X-rated show in a St Petersburg hotel, makes much of the novel read like an adults-only comic tragedy.

Johnson - who is, after all, the father of the real life Boris, British Foreign Secretary - is too soft on Craig-Trump, and too admiring of Killick-May, but then he should know.

Best read as fiction but the facts are even less believable.

To be taken with a stiff whisky.

Peter Stupples, now living in Wellington, used to teach at the University of Otago.

 

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