Wednesday 16 September 2020

Anyone for Edmund? by Simon Edge

Chez Maximka, St Edmund

I have been reflecting more on memory and its limits. I am relieved to find that there are many events in my own deepest history that I can bring to mind, so my recall is not quite as rotten and decayed as I had feared. Almost all of them, though, happened after my death.

Anyone for Edmund? by Simon Edge is a magnificent blend of political satire, magic realism and historical fiction.

The above mentioned genre attribution might not be technically correct, though as Wikipedia helpfully states that magic (or magical) realism presents a realistic view of modern world with added magical elements, I'll go with this definition. It's precisely the case when supernatural phenomena is presented in otherwise real-world or mundane setting.

The book opens with an archaeological dig nearby the ruins of Bury St Edmund's Abbey, where the monks have hidden the sacred remains of St Edmund during the Dissolution of monasteries.
Hannah is one of the community volunteers, who happens to be there, when the skull is found.

Hannah's cousin Mark is a special adviser to the "sainted" Marina Spencer. After a career at the BBC, producing programmes for the World Service, he is supposed to have his dream job with Marina.
Power-hungry Marina is a pushy bully of a boss, who has a great talent for looking approachable and friendly on TV.
Her charisma doesn't extent to her aides whom she treats as minions of no significance. "Marina Spencer was the most neurotic person he had ever met. Her anxiety focused primarily on her media appearances, which was unfortunate, since she was the government's star media performer".

All her staff are hostages to her moods.
"She would demand them at all hours of the day and most hours of the night, since she was also an insomniac and expected her staff to be the same".
Mark dreads going to the office, where he's subjected to Marina's relentless criticism and his colleagues' competitiveness.
She never gives thanks for all the hard work her staff are doing. "Expecting gratitude from Marina was like expecting not to be squeezed to death by a boa constrictor: it was an unreasonable hope that went against nature".

It so happens that Hannah shares the news of the big discovery at the dig with Mark's mother, who in her turn can't wait to spill the news to her son, "It's a very exciting development. It'll be all over the news, when they announce it. They haven't done it yet, and I thought you'd like a … what's that horrible expression?" "A heads-up?" She thinks it to be the news of great importance, since St Edmund was England's patron saint until we got St George.

Marina needs new eye-catching ideas for her talk in the cabinet. Cornered, Mark comes up with a suggestion of a new patron saint for the whole of the UK, "Bringing all four nations together, after the trauma of the past few years"
"As ideas went, it was not so much half-baked as still in the mixing bowl before he had turned the oven on".
Once he suggests it, he has to build the case as to why St Edmund could be seen as a unifying figure, "He added a silent prayer to St Wikipedia that he could find some adequate connection".
The following spin is a matter of creative genius of Mark, his imagination and resourcefulness.

Without giving any spoilers, the credentials Mark builds for Marina's ambitious campaign - manipulating history data - are brilliant.
Simon Edge is one of the best wits in the British political satire.

Every scene with Marina is pure political farce. She is a ruthless tyrant with an over-inflated ego. I loved the episode at St Edmund's Chapel, where she arrives wearing colours matching St Edmund's flags. She nearly causes a scene, when she realises that she is supposed to sit "in the blasted gods".
But when another, less prominent MP, makes a dig at Marina for sitting in the gallery, she responds, "I'm simply here to witness St Edmund's return to his proper place, Wendy. That's all that matters," said Marina, but the look that went with her words could have refrozen the polar ice cap."

As Mark's lies spin out of control, we are wondering if they are going to be exposed. He's not a contemptible, cynical political hack, in fact you'll most likely feel sympathy for him, and hope the whole brouhaha would end in his favour.

The narrative flits back and forth from Mark to Hannah to St Edmund, and that's where the narrative becomes supernatural. The Royal Saint is reliving his own life, before and after death, his miracles and legacy. Having seen Marina kneeling in front of his shrine, he takes her under his wing and wants to reward her for the seeming devotion, with the most drastic consequences for her opponents.

All Edge's books are an outstanding character study. The author is sympathetic to his hapless protagonist.
Marina is the perfect villainess whom you'll love to hate.

Edge is a skilful storyteller who reimagines the past and the present. The plot is intelligent, intricate and will keep you gripped.

After I finished reading the book, I visited the library to see if I can find anything on the British saints. There is a small extract on St Edmund in Richard James' England's Forgotten Past (2010 edition).

Chez Maximka

I also spotted Warriors of the Viking World by Ben Hubbard in The Works (at £3 at the moment), where I found this illustration.

Chez Maximka, books about English saints

Many thanks to Simon Edge and Lightning Books for my copy of the book!

modern political satire, Chez Maximka


  1. I'm not sure what to say about this book. Marina seems horrible, but that makes me question how much I would like this book. I think it's too simplistic to make a villain 100% bad and not nuanced, as people are in real life.

    1. Thank you, Anca, it's the third book by Simon Edge that I read, and his style of writing, and his sense of humour appeal to me. I would recommend reading this book to find out whether Marina is a 100% villain. :)