Best Political Novels

A break from Brexit this week: we talk to the novelist Richard T. Kelly, author of Crusaders and The Knives, about what makes great political fiction. We discuss the research needed to make a political novel authentic, how to get inside the head of a politician and we ask whether May or Trump would make good fictional heroes. Plus we pick some of our favourite political novels, with literary critic Kasia Boddy. 


Don't worry: more Brexit soon!


Talking Points:


How does a novelist know what it’s like to be a Conservative Home Secretary?

  • It’s about research and empathy.
  • Novelists should understand and contain forces of both revolution and counter-revolution within themself.


The best political novels often extend forward into dystopia but also backward into history to explain how you got to that outcome.

  • Writing the present is extremely difficult.
  • Political novels need human drama and conflict.
  • The human elements allow you to get beyond Washington or Westminster.
  • The challenge is to capture both powerful and ordinary people with equal verisimilitude.
  • Politics today are increasingly schematic, which presents problems for the novelist.


At their core, political novels are political because they deal with question of the legitimate and illegitimate use of force.

  • Controlling the killing machines is what makes a politician’s job different. What does it mean to live with the consequences of that kind of power?


Books come and go because of things that happen in the world.

  • U.S. publishers are currently reprinting a lot of old dystopias—but not many new novels.
  • Fiction sales are down. People are too engrossed in the daily news cycle.


The Panel’s Favourite Political Novels:


Also on the TP Bookshelf:

  • The Knives, Richard T. Kelly
  • Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography, Charles Moore
  • The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst
  • The Information, Martin Amis
  • La Comédie Humaine, Honoré de Balzac
  • Harlot’s Ghost, Norman Mailer
  • The Great Melody, Conor Cruise O’Brien
  • Crusaders, Richard T. Kelly
  • The Ghost, Robert Harris
  • The U.S.A. Trilogy, John Dos Passos
  • Middle England, Jonathan Coe
  • “Tell the truth but tell it slant—,” Emily Dickinson
  • The Secret Agent, Joseph Conrad
  • Demons (or The Devils), Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Plot Against America, Philip Roth
  • Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
  • Corridors of Power, C.P. Snow
  • It Can’t Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis
  • The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick


And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: acast.com/privacy