What Just Happened?! by Marina Hyde

Reviewed by Antonella Townsend

 Chinese curse:  May you live in interesting times.

Humour is a non-contact sport in Britain, I think they are pushing for it to be included in the Olympics, in which case Marina Hyde will certainly win gold.  I haven’t relished reading political and cultural commentary so much since the late, very great, Clive James strutted his prose.  Although, James gave his readers the occasional break from side splitting funny to make a serious, oft profound, observation, whereas Marina Hyde’s political commentary is non-stop hilarious.  Reminiscent of James, albeit on steroids, Oxford graduate Hyde describes her columns as: a record of a moment in time – perhaps some howl of entitled despair that liberals like me had to work through.  And there is so much to work through.  A cast of improbable characters:  Brexit politicians, a queen plus various princes and duchesses, celebrities, wicked advisers, reality TV monsters, billionaires, philanthropists, fauxlanthropists, Hollywood sex offenders, all things sporty … the list goes on, but she is never funnier than when commenting on the antics of Westminster’s inmates.  Given Australia’s connection with British politics and stronger links to various genres of sport, readers will be conversant with much of Hyde’s material (Google fills inconvenient gaps), in any case, it is so entertaining that even the most disinterested Aussie Republican will appreciate this collection of Hyde’s Guardian columns harvested from between 2016 and 2022.

 Marina Hyde is a massive lateral thinker, percolating British statesmen and women through popular culture for comedic effect plays to her strengths.  Never was this more needed than during Brexit.  This debacle exhausted and divided the nation, having a laugh about the nefarious characters strutting throughout the land proliferating alarm and despondency was the only defence available to the embattled general public.  Hyde ensured they had huge dollops of laughter to soften the horror of it all.  Boris, of course, features heavily.  Well, he really does ask for it.  At one stage Boris is compared with Blackadder’s Lord Flashheart – I’ve got a plan, and it’s as hot as my pants! And about his mode of dress:  … shambling figure of Boris Johnson – not so much a statesman as an Oxfam donation bag torn open by a fox … Or:  Johnson looks like Chucky if he’d borrowed a suit for a court appearance, or a Yewtree version of Worzel Gummidge.

 I did feel a little sorry for Theresa May cast as the Florence Foster Jenkins of politics, but then I didn’t have to witness as she flummoxed through one Brexit ‘deal’ after another.  Not so much sympathy with Nigel Farage when his European Parliament rant was described thus:  Watching him was like watching the live abortion of Churchill’s oratorical legacy.

Much in this collection is so amusing, I can’t possibly do justice in this review to the four hundred and seventy odd pages covering vast material – such flair, so well written.  There are, of course, some pertinent observations and serious outrage, particularly on the Post Office scandal that was scarily similar to Australia’s Robo Debt debacle, and on climate change.  The former was a horrific faulty computer system that saw Post Office operators defamed, a computer system trusted rather than thousands of upstanding workers who had not a blot on their reputation.  On climate change, and policies of denial, so like the Morrison government, she writes (25 October 2019):

We remain in the wandering hands of a government that doesn’t want 16- and 17-year-olds to vote because they aren’t mature enough, but will go on strike if it can’t get its election exactly when it wants it.  Meanwhile, 16- and 17-year-olds are having to bunk off their childhoods to draw the attention of infantilised adults to the looming risk of ecological and social collapse.

Don’t adjust your minds readers, there is a fault in reality.

Highly Recommended

What Just happened?! Dispatches from Turbulent Times

By Marina Hyde


Allen & Unwin


ISBN: 978 178335 260 9

$29.99; 472pp

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