27 October 2009

(Bad) Book Review

What couldn't there be to like? The story of the wartime exploits in the British Embassy in Madrid of Tom Burns, friend of Woodruff, Waugh and Greene, erstwhile editor of The Tablet when it was a Catholic intellectual weekly for all.

Written by Burn's son, I had expected the book to offer some illumination of why Tom Burns had joined Sir Samuel Hoare's wartime Embassy to Franco's recently installed government, and what he had done. What I hadn't expected was a book so full of errors in things I understand, that I can't know whether or not it is accurate about the things I don't.

Consider just this, describing his father's First Holy Communion, undated but in context between 1912 and 1914:

"Burns found himself absorbing the mysteries of a faith that had at its core the doctrine of the Real Presence. He munched on his first Communion wafer, and sipped at the chalice, fully believing that this was the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, as recited by the priest, and that the words were part of the same mystification as that experienced by the apostle at the Last Supper."

Or, for those who know a bit about the attack by Oldmeadow in The Tablet on Waugh's Black Mischief, the suggestion that Burns had manoeuvred Oldmeadow into it, and was able three years (sic) later to organise the group which bought The Tablet's owners out.

Add some prurient comment about his father's relationship with Anne Bowes-Lyon, a cousin of the Queen Mother and therefore, in the author's eyes, some sort of scion of the Royal Family; and the (credulity-stretching) suggestion that Philby and Blunt both personally conspired against him; or that he was told that he had been refused a CMG because "too many RCs were getting gongs"; and this reader, for one, ends up feeling that a great opportunity has been missed.

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