Book Review: The Spoiler

Sometimes the story behind the story is the story you really want to read, as this debut novel by Annalena McAfee, a respected British journalist and the wife of acclaimed novelist Ian (“Atonement”) McEwan, shows so well in this smart, snarky satire of London’s tabloid news biz.

It’s the late 1990s, just before the Web juggernaut, when expense accounts ran high, reporters and editors got higher and journalistic standards sank as low as they could go—as the scandals rocking Rupert Murdoch’s Fleet Street have since revealed.

Here we meet two women at a key juncture in their respective careers. Honor Tait, now in her 80s, is a legendary war correspondent with a new book to plug; Tamara Sim, in her 20s, is slogging through trash at a gossip rag.


When Honor was her age, she was covering the liberation of Buchenwald, while Tamara’s stuck uncovering celebrity cellulite. As Tamara’s editor—her married ex-lover—tells her at a bar, “I’m counting on you for some quality sleaze.” Can she deliver the goods before the competition?

Not surprisingly, the subject of the profile does not wish to share intimate details of her private life, making clear what she thinks her profession has become: publishing “imbecilic morality tales for an amoral age.” In the lingo, a “spoiler” means ruining what a rival thought was an exclusive story.

Here, McAfee adroitly plots the truth pursuit through clever twists and turns, and shows what the news of the world is too often made of.

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