NO-ONE, not a solitary soul, could have foreseen the departure of Ian Paisley from political life. This is not to mean Enoch Powell's dictum that all political careers end in failure, but rather the manner in which Paisley was seen to fail, especially by his unionist buddies. The man who fired off those incendiary "Never, never, nevers", the man who warned politicians from the Republic that if they planned crossing the border, "it had better be by helicopter", the man who publicly bally-ragged the pope, was now willing to sit around a power-sharing table with Shinners. And not just willing, but seen to be enjoying it.
If Papa Paisley's disorienting behaviour was giving unionists and Free Presbyterians the head staggers, Baba Paisley's use of public office for private gain was just as staggering. Seymour Sweeney was buying up land around the Giant's Causeway and when the time was ripe he would build a visitors' centre. Any problems he might face would be cleared up by Ian junior. Ian Junior resigns, Ian senior resigns as head of the Free Presbyterian Church. The slide from grace is relatively swift and told here at a lively lick by an "investigative" reporter who had a hand in that slide from grace. All reporting is investigative: so-called investigative correspondents are given more time and newspaper space and this one has made the most of that luxury.
THIS much-publicised 'biography' triggered no little controversy when it first appeared. Dixon, let it be made clear from the start, never set out to write a comprehensive life of the German-born Empress of Russia. His declared intention was to provide a general study of European royalty, and put Catherine's life in the context of that period. That said, we are provided with enough details of her life to be getting on with. To begin with, Catherine was notorious for her great number of intimacies, yet to concentrate on her many lovers would be to trivialise a fascinating and highly intelligent character. That Voltaire eagerly traded letters with her is but one indication of her intelligence. She married Tsar Peter, a disastrous mismatch with her taking over the throne in a palace coup. The tsar died mysteriously soon after. Catherine declared he had died "from an attack of his haemorrhoids". Of course the life isn't flawless. What annoyed this reader was the meaningless use of roubles. As early as page four, we read that 20,000 roubles were spent on her (wedding) wardrobe. Otherwise wonderful.
CUSK'S latest novel – some will say her greatest – is set over a 12-month period, from chestnut fall to chestnut fall. In between, we are introduced to the Bradshaw brothers, their wives, their parents, their concerns, their irritants. What Cusk does here, and has done elsewhere, is examine this family bonding or contentious rupture or whatever applies to her particular characters. Even the family dog comes in for scrutiny. This is what Cusk does – dissects relationships, all kinds, and exposes weaknesses, foibles, acidic jealousies. She is a master at this. The only other named variations I am aware of are Bach's Goldberg. Cusk's prose is as musically precise as the Goldberg's.