O : A Presidential Novel by Anonymous

by |January 27, 2011

There has been a lot of talk about this book in the US press –  much of it scathing…

The New York Times reviewer, Michiko Kakutani writes: “Well, now we know why the author of this much gossiped about, heavily marketed new book wanted to remain anonymous: “O: A Presidential Novel” is a thoroughly lackadaisical performance — trite, implausible and decidedly unfunny.”

The Washington Post’s Ron Charles writes: “In fact, its anonymity may be the sexiest thing about “O.” The publisher is being coy, claiming it was written by someone who “has been in the room with Barack Obama,” which means we can rule out Kim Jong Il, but just about everybody else is still fair game. In any case, trust me, it’s far too earnest for Christopher Buckley. And “O” has none of the snazzy wit of Joe Klein’s briefly anonymous novel about the Clinton campaign, or the grandeur of Robert Penn Warren’s “All the King’s Men,” or the pathos of Ethan Canin’s “America America.” No, in the pages of this new novel, primary colors fade to soft pastels.”

And Susan Page in USAToday:

“The mesmerizing power of Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics when it was published in 1996 was its roiling, pitch-perfect, three-dimensional portrait of President Bill Clinton, even if his name in the loosely fictionalized account of his first presidential campaign was Gov. Jack Stanton.

The disappointing thing about O: A Presidential Novel, which goes on sale Jan. 25, is the failure of this speculative account of his 2012 re-election campaign to offer any similar insights into President Barack Obama, known throughout only by his initial.”

In the UK, there is conflict, at least in the Guardian newspaper – The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington – begins his review thus – “O: A Presidential Novel sparks search for anonymous author: Speculation rife that mystery writer behind fictional book depicting Barack Obama may be a political insider.

The question of who wrote O has become the Washington parlour game of the winter. Simon & Schuster, which publishes it next Tuesday, has said only it is “someone who has been in the room with Obama and knows this world intimately”.

The Guardian’s Michael Tomasky then blogged: “As usual, our own Ed Pilkington delivers a nicely turned story about the new novel O: A Presidential Novel written by Anonymous. But I have to say, I don’t know that anyone is talking about it all.

I live in Washington. I’m fairly plugged in. Why last Saturday I even went to a dinner party full of swells and elitist types. I didn’t hear anyone mention it.

It seems sort of desperate and silly, does it not? Joe Klein came up with the Anonymous idea. When Joe thought of it, it was original and clever. Pulling that a second time is humiliatingly lame. It’s like, hey, let me tell you about this idea I have for a screenplay. It’s set during World War II, and the action takes place in this cafe called Rick’s…

I suppose there’s a chance the novel is good. But that strikes me as a long shot. It’s very rare that these kinds of novels are any good as novels. And Ed says Obama comes off well. What is the point of that? Someone hides their identity and writes puffery? That’s kind of ridiculous.

There is also the problem that Obama isn’t very good for satire because he just isn’t funny. Nothing about him is funny. He’s too moderate. In his personal habits, I mean. He looks good, he speaks well, he has no tics, he talks rather flatly without any colorful language. He’s unfunniest president since… I don’t know who.”

The publisher, Simon and Schuster, always knew this book was going to polarise opinion. They proudly list all of the links to the reviews I have used above, bad and worse, on their website. They know that curiosity will get the better of most lovers of political writing. The book will sell. A chance to get behind closed doors with the Obama camp will be too hard to resist.

Decide for yourself – READ AN EXTRACT: HERE

Oh, I mustn’t forget the publisher’s own description:

O : A Presidential Novel

Sometimes only a novel can tell the truth…

A novel of political intrigue about President Obama, written by an anonymous Washington insider, O offers an incisive portrait of his advisors and what they will do to win the next presidential election in 2012.

Written by an author who has been in the room with Obama, the novel includes revealing and insightful portraits of prominent figures in the political world including a rising political star who takes over the president’s 2012 reelection campaign after O’s veteran campaign chief is forced to resign because of an affair with a teenage prostitute, a dazzling young journalist whose relationship with one of her sources could complicate her career and a one-term governor with a military background, who is emerging as the likely nominee and a formidable opponent for O.

Meanwhile, O is chafing under the demands of the presidency. His senior aides are running him too hard and, to his irritation, have advised him not to play golf on the weekends. To win re-election, he realizes he may have to adopt political methods he had once denounced.

As a work of speculative fiction, the details in O will soon be overtaken by events. But no chronicle is more likely to convey the interior life of the 2012 campaign – the issues they will confront, the compromises they will make, the lengths to which they will go for victory.

O is a fascinating, entertaining, and darkly intriguing novel for anyone who wants to understand what the president and his team are really thinking.

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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