I am within 10,000 words of the end of the book I have spent years writing. I have been asked by my agent, who now has to sell it, what in my opinion was the theme, the purpose, the lesson of my book – that is, if it has a lesson and is not just a piece of entertainment. He asked me this because he was looking for a purpose for the book, knowing I was trying to share wisdom and not simply be a page-turner among many page-turners that just keep the reader busy for a period of time.
I had to pluck something from the air, yet I could not. Just could not, say what the book is about. I’ve explained that it’s about bits of my autobiography, and historical figures, and an imaginary mob of fairies. But how can I extract an elevator pitch, or the kind of blurb that goes on the back of a book, from the twisting labyrinthine story I have painted?
But as bed and the early morning hours have always proved the most fecund times of my day, I suddenly realised in the early hours of a day last week: the topic of my book was that the ‘greatest tragedy of human life’ – and it has many – is human leadership. The qualities of our leaders from time immemorial have been the undoing of us humans.
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I was reminded of this when I saw laudatory pages in The Guardian and Telegraph, The Times and the Financial Times announcing the new film Napoleon by Ridley Scott. And The Guardian had a particularly brooding photo of Joaquin Phoenix pretending to be Napoleon for the cameras. The man who after the French Revolution that had banned slavery, brought slavery back. And marched on Moscow and caused the death of hundreds of thousands of French people, not to mention hundreds of thousands of other Europeans. And thousands in North Africa and the Levant.
A churner-up of history, presumably to improve the chances of France dominating the world and remaking Europe in France’s own interest. And now, at a time when David Cameron returns to lead again in British politics in a secondary role, we have a great big creature from a past historical epoch to fill us full of awe.