MRS. THATCHER'S MINISTER: The Private Diaries of Alan Clark by Alan Clark

MRS. THATCHER'S MINISTER: The Private Diaries of Alan Clark

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The diaries of Clark, who held cabinet positions under British prime ministers Thatcher and Major from 1986 to 1992, have already caused something of a sensation in the UK. An old Etonian aristocrat and intellectual, Clark is a belligerently witty observer of the high echelons of British life -- and also a sentimental and self-pitying one. The diaries, covering 1983 to 1991, span the bulk of the Thatcher years. His relationship with Thatcher is marked by a strange mixture of awe and skepticism. In one of the book's most peculiar scenes, the PM asks (i.e., orders) Clark to move from heading the Ministry of Trade to serving in the Ministry of Defence under Tom King, whom he loathes. Determined at first to put up stiff resistance, he finally accedes -- with a limpness that amazes himself -- to the irresistible force of the Iron Lady. The British, of course, love this kind of incestuous, almost coded gossiping. Clark is always amusingly prickly. On an official trip to Morocco, where he is berated by his hosts about ""Suleiman Rushdie,"" he wonders, ""Can't we swap him for Terry Waite?"" Elsewhere, he is the frankly nostalgic aristocrat, son of Lord Clark, keeper of Saltwood Castle in Kent, bemoaning the erosion of his class. In one entry, he notes that once the entire British Empire was run by the same number of bureaucrats as currently staff a single department. In another, he laments the poverty inflicted on the upper classes by death taxes and by the rising expectations of the ""lower classes,"" all of which makes having servants terribly expensive. Happily, this kind of oblivious High Toryism is redeemed by style, wit, and suave disdain for vulgarity. A dash of scholarship and good intellectual breeding produce a very good read that betrays a sensitive and morbid intelligence. Clark's observations of British political life are acute and his gossip hilarious.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1994
Page count: 421pp
Publisher: "Farrar, Straus & Giroux"