Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Irregulars by Jennet Conant

World War Two spies.

Roald Dahl (author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and Matilda, among others).

Ian Flemming, David Ogilvy, LBJ, Noel Coward, Eleanor Roosevelt, Clare Booth Luce, William O. Douglas, Ernest Hemingway.

Sex and Money. Pain and Suffering. Heroes and Villains.

The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington by Jennet Conant has something for everyone.
Alice's illicit affair with Lyndon Johnson continued for years. While her marriage to Marsh seemed halfhearted at best and encompassed many partners.
Then there was Evalyn Walsh McLean, the flamboyant hostess ... [who] never received her guests without the enormous 92 1/2-carat Hope diamond dangling from a gleaming chain around her neck.
[Roald Dahl] never made it. Lost and low on fuel, he made what the RAF squadron report termed "an unsuccessful forced landing" and crashed headlong into the desert floor.
Unfortunately, a single book can not be history, biography, kiss-and-tell, and cloak-and-dagger. This promising material, in the hand of a journalist, is weighed down with footnotes, end notes, bibliographies, inline references and annotations, and indexes - you can almost see the ghost of the fact checker on each page. Just as Roald Dahl rescued the official history of BSC, British Security Coordination (England's covert wartime activities in the Western Hemisphere), someone needs to rescue this material.
[Stephenson, head of BSC] wanted the acclaimed young writer [Dahl] to apply his storytelling skills to render the material a little more palatable than ... dry, academic text.
Regardless, the book includes many interesting tidbits.

LGBT Book Watch: For no particular reason, this book resurrects the story of blackmailing homosexuals. Whether this happened often or rarely, its place in popular mythology provided a convenient excuse for many homophobic practices, and does need to be uncritically repeated in the 21st century.

The only other LGBT mention is a homophobic aside about the bisexual movie star Tyrone Power.
He was trying to escape a stalled career and rocky marriage, strained by his more than passing interest in male companionship.

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