Phil Shannon

Miss Muriel Matters
Robert Wainwright
ABC Books, 2017
376 pages

In 1909, Muriel Matters planned to rain on the parade of King Edward VII to the ceremonial opening of parliament. She aimed to drop a shower of “Votes for Women” leaflets on his head from a chartered air balloon trailing streamers in the white, gold and green of the Women’s Freedom League (WFL).

In no breast did the prodigious financial corruption of world football’s administrative elite beat more vigorously than that of Chuck Blazer, the head of football in the North and Central American and Caribbean regional body.

Chuck was not called American soccer’s “Mr Big” for nothing. His bottomless appetite for high-calorie nosh gave him a gargantuan girth, which was matched financially in size by his tax-sheltered bank accounts. These bulged with millions of dollars received through fraud, embezzlement, bribes, perks, gifts and inducements.

Not only could he afford to rent an entire floor of luxury apartments in the prestigious Trump Tower in Manhattan, but he preserved one of them solely for the use of his cats.

The Vatican Treasurer, George Pell, could turn out to be the Lance Armstrong of the Australian Catholic Church.

Like Armstrong, the world’s former top cyclist who furiously denied being a drug cheat until he was eventually rumbled by dogged investigative journalists. Pell, Australia’s top Catholic, has maintained his innocence in the face of mounting allegations that he covered up an epidemic of sexual abuse of children by Australian Catholic priests.

He has now been charged with such crimes himself.

“How does it aid the revolution, you trying to be funny?” The left-wing Liverpudlian Alexei Sayle, future star of the BBC’s comically demented The Young Ones, was flummoxed by this question posed to him by an exiled Arab revolutionary in Sayle’s London flat in 1971, in which the General Congress of the deadly serious Popular Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arab Gulf was being held.

Sayle, the son of working-class communists, was a “practising communist” himself. But he also loved clowning around, he writes in Thatcher Sole My Trousers, his follow-up memoir to his childhood reminiscences in Stalin Ate My Homework.

The year 1917 offered an extraordinary course in political literacy for the people of Russia.

In the February anti-Tsarist revolution, which “dispensed breakneck with a half millennium of autocratic rule”, and then in the October socialist revolution, eager workers and peasants stumbled over and then mastered a new way to speak of economic and political democracy, writes China Mieville in October, his narrative of the Russian Revolution.

The Case Against Fragrance
Kate Grenville
Text Publishing, 2017
198 pages

The fragrance industry really gets up Kate Grenville’s nose. 

The Australian novelist has gradually worked out that artificially-scented consumer products, from high-end perfume to toilet cleaner, were the cause of her debilitating headaches and wooziness.

Caught In The Revolution: Petrograd 1917
Helen Rappaport
Windmill Books, 2017
430 pages

In 1916-17, millions of starving Russian workers queued for hours for scarce bread, perished on the eastern front or were left unemployed in a country where the living conditions were as atrocious as the record winter cold.

Lenin on the Train
Catherine Merridale
Allen Lane, 2016, 354 pages

The German “sealed train” that gave Vladimir I Lenin safe passage from exile in Switzerland through wartime Germany to Russia in April 1917, in the aftermath of the overthrow of Russia’s monarchy that had exiled the Russian revolutionary leader, was historically pivotal.

Lady Constance Lytton: Aristocrat, Suffragette, Martyr
Lyndsey Jenkins
Biteback Publishing, 2015
282 pages

When Lady Constance Bulwer-Lytton was arrested in 1909 for protesting outside British parliament, and went on prison hunger-strike, for demanding women’s right to vote, she was, to prevent an embarrassing political fuss, released early.

This avoided the spectacle of one of Britain’s best-connected aristocrats being subjected to the government’s policy of force-feeding hunger-striking suffragettes.

Eleanor Marx
By Rachel Holmes
Bloomsbury, 2015
508 pages

“Is it not wonderful when you come to look at things squarely in the face, how rarely we seem to practise all the fine things we preach to others?” lamented Eleanor Marx in 1892. 

Karl Marx’s youngest daughter was to be the tragic victim of this truism, as Rachel Holmes explores in her biography that extricates this pioneering revolutionary socialist feminist from the giant shadow of her father.

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