Book Review from the September 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard
How I Killed Margaret Thatcher, By Anthony Cartwright Tindel Street Press, 2012.
Anthony Cartwright’s novel evokes memories familiar to anyone who lived (or, especially, was growing up) during the early 1980s and the reign of Thatcher. It is the story of 9-year old Sean, growing up in Dudley, amidst his family as they and their aspirations, hopes and fears evolve under Tory rule. The narrative structure, of Sean as an adult looking back and telling his tale and where he is now, adds to the sense of historical movement.
It starts with a fight between his grandfather and his uncle, who has voted Tory and gets a smack in the gob for his pains. Sean’s father daren’t admit he voted for Thatcher too. They all live in a heavily industrial area, working in the Midlands’ factories. Sean’s father wants to move out of the street he grew up on, and own a house of his own, gaining a mortgage that looms, throughout the narrative, foreshadowing the eventual havoc de-industrialisation was going to wreak on the family.
The story shows how some working class voters did support Thatcher, and the offer she made to take them out of the conditions they were living under. Working class people are shown as not monolithic or consistent: Sean’s mother, who opposes Thatcher is still aspirational enough to correct his dialect ‘yew am’ to ‘you are’. Chapters are interspersed with quotes from Thatcher that show her trying to appeal to working class sensibilities.
Sean absorbs the antipathy towards Thatcher, blaming her for all his ills, and begins to scheme violent vengeance. He is aware, with each news report, with the family gathered in front of the telly, whose side he is on. Although, as we know now, he never did kill Thatcher, his trajectory through the pain inflicted on his family, into a post-Tory world seems to grasp the evaporation of a clear narrative of the workers’ movement. There is no hope at the end of this novel, only a continuation of a hard life.
This is a simple but powerful book, showing where we have come from and where we are now.