Author:John Preston

Publisher:Other Press


This story is aptly titled “very English” in that it provides a thorough, step by step documentation of background culminating in the scandal that brought down Jeremy Thorpe, then leader of the British Liberal Party. It is much closer to a journalistic account than dramatized non-fiction and certainly far removed from a tabloid thriller. It’s more suited to reading in a comfortable chair than perched on the edge of one’s seat. Yet, it does provide a compelling insight into the main characters’ thought processes, actions and personalities.

Jeremy Thorpe epitomizes the charismatic, manipulative narcissist who can, with power and provocation, degenerate into sociopathic behavior. Unfortunately, America has seen fit to birth a monster of this ilk that renders Thorpe bland in comparison. To England’s credit, Thorpe’s actions are still considered scandalous, though it would be unfair to suggest he became truly sociopathic.

In Peter Bessell, we see the unwitting adulator people like Thorpe surround themselves with to carry out whatever actions he requests. Bessell is a mixed bag of pious morality, bumbling businessman and easily led idealist. When he finally realizes Thorpe is using him as he uses everyone, he turns against Thorpe only to have his ineptness work in Thorpe’s favor.

David Holmes is another of Thorpe’s lap dogs, ready to do anything he bids to curry favor. And last but certainly not least, is the victim, Norman Josiffe (later renamed Scott), mentally frail yet more tenacious than common sense would have predicted. The book does an excellent job of showing how these characters interact to bring events to their scandalous conclusion. Though circumstances and the degree of damage and retribution differ, this is far too often the impact of people like Jeremy Thorpe.

Sex, claimed in the sub-title, is almost entirely of the homosexual variety. Today, we often tend to think of homosexuality in terms of a gay couple living together quietly, perhaps raising adopted or artificially inseminated children. We tend to overlook the dark side of homosexual rape, coercion, harassment, bribery, blackmail and even murder. Thorpe provided an effective refresher of this evil side, having committed or tried to commit each of these things.

In summary, John Preston’s chronical of Jeremy Thorpe’s very English scandal provides a comprehensive and enlightening view into the behavior of a narcissist and those he draws into his web.