The Truth – a slightly unfinished jigsaw

Keith Mabbut in an intrepid journalist gone tame. From breaking a water poisoning story and making a wealth of enemies in the process to writing an oil company’s official history without any mention of the environmental disasters it has caused, it’s fair to say that in middle age the fire in Keith’s belly is sputtering somewhat. He is estranged from his wife, he’s always letting his grown-up children down and he has never had the success he hoped for in his career. But then, as he settles down to finally write his big novel, Mabbut gets an unlikely commission. A biography of the elusive Hamish Melville, his environmental hero. It’s a dream come true but Mabbut’s investigative nose is suddenly twitching. Is there something fishy about his commissioners?

Michael Palin’s The Truth is a story of second chances. His protagonist Mabbut is prickly, proud, and frustrating at times. A little bit of a pedant, he’s hard to warm to at first but he ultimately wins you over. The best parts of this book are those where he’s travelling India in search of Melville. Of course, Palin knows how to write a travelogue. Travelling also frees Mabbut from his dull daily life and some of the most irritating aspects of his personality.

In terms of review, I wasn’t bowled over by the book – it is, as it says on the back, ‘a very good story, very well told’ but I could never really love Mabbut enough to get any more involved in it than that. There were also a few small pieces in the jigsaw that seemed to have been left unresolved: is Stella secretly struggling with a serious illness? Is Shiraj really what he appears to be?

So although I enjoyed reading The Truth, it does fall between three excellent books in my reading calendar, and it is therefore getting graded on a curve. (Sorry Michael. Pole to Pole is still one of my favourite things of all-time.) A very readable book but not necessarily one to snatch from a bookshop at the earliest possible opportunity.

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