If it could possibly be measured, a scale of 'fervency' in viewers of television programs would probably render Aaron Sorkin's 'The West Wing' at the pointy end. I personally enjoyed every episode of the seven seasons that were produced so much that I can be sure I have watched each at least twice. Others I know outstrip this by a long way. But despite its quality as a television program I believe it has done some damage to the psyche of Australian generation Y who seem convinced on applying 'learnings' from the show to Australian politics. While I still believe it to be a tremendous show, operationally and ideologically the political systems of Australia and the USA are vastly different.
So what is my purpose in describing the above within a book review? Well I offer to you that 'First Among Equals' is logically a complementary read for the politically minded generation Y, and that in describing the United Kingdom's Westminster system of government they will become more rounded in their knowledge of the Australian political scene. Of course this assumes outright aversion to reading any non-fiction text on political systems – a perusal of such will render 'knowledge' obtained via television and fictional works second best.
Archer is one of the masters of the fast moving, page turning plot and the ability to intertwine the stories of multiple seemingly unrelated characters together. Because of the focus on the plot at the expense of scene description, all of Archer's books tend to be timeless. This particular work was first published in 1984 and has not dated. Even his use of actual political figures of the time as characters can be accepted in reading the story as he could have used fictional names without detriment.
The book revolves around four ambitious men from different backgrounds and different political viewpoints (although two each sit on either side of the political spectrum). These men all enter parliament at the same moment and Archer (himself a former political figure) describes each of their individual struggles, weaknesses, successes and failures as they strive in their political careers. Ultimately as the books title suggests, (First Among Equals is a common description for leaders of democratically elected governments), the attainment of Prime Ministership is foremost on each mind.
Each of these men the reader finds has distinctively endearing qualities, as well as fallibilities, therefore despite what pre-conceived political ideologies a reader may bring they may find themselves desiring the ascension at a point in the book of any one of the characters. Don't misunderstand, by no means is this book a heavy character psychological analysis, it is not. What it is though is a 'fly over' of what a professional (and personal) life may look like for ambitious politicians.
My personal favourite character is Charles Seymour who, because fate determined he was the second born of twins, misses out on noble birthright. From a character seemingly bitter about these events, and hell bent on living the nobleman’s life to begin with despite fate, the ups and downs of his political career determine changes in character for Seymour by books end.
Archer knows his audience, and he writes for them rather than indulging in experimentation. All of his books are aimed at being an enjoyable read for his audience; he is not seeking to make worldly comment behind a fictional story either. He is a storyteller pure and simple. That Mills and Boon create escapist worlds for lovelorn females, Archer and similar authors do similar for ambitious men, and maybe educating them a little as well.
Not an absolute must for the literary devotee, but a good read nonetheless – Tennis Balls.
Cover Image courtesy of www.angusandrobertson.com.au