Book Review: Speaking For Myself

As part of my commitment to read a book a week, I’m posting a book review every Sunday. If you have a particular book in mind that you’d like reviewed, email me and I’ll try to include that.

This week’s book is Speaking for Myself by Cherie Blair.

What I like about the book

As the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Cherie Blair provides a rare glimpse into life in the political stratosphere. She takes us into right through the front door of Number 10 Downing Street and introduces us to the privileges and struggles of an ordinary family thrown into extra-ordinary circumstances.

While the first chapter detailing the family genealogy is a little too slow-going for my liking, the book gets progressively more interesting. The human element comes across in the telling of her romantic and family relationships, the professional angle is strongly present in her description of her work as a barrister, and a surreal perspective is provided by looking at the world through the lens of a political spouse.

What I like best is the feeling you get throughout the book of how much she loves her husband, and despite her own busy career tries hard in her own way to be a support to him. This single endearing virtue is enough to cover a multitude of sins, real or perceived. She is also able to laugh at herself and her gaffes, another endearing trait.

A repeated theme in the book is the lack of privacy that those in the public eye suffer, and the unrelenting pressure of being under constant scrutiny. From the clothes she wears to her hairdo, to what she says and how she behaves, all are fodder for public discussion. You may give thanks after reading this book that you enjoy the freedom of being a non-famous person.

You can’t help feeling that she is using the book to get back at the British press, which for the most part portrayed her in unflattering terms during her tenure as prime minister’s wife. In all fairness, she deserves to tell her side of the story. And though it is the story of an obviously flawed person, so are all our individual stories. And this one certainly had me turning the pages.

Who should read this book and why

Women trying to balance career and family

Working mothers will identify with having to juggle the demands of work and having young children at home. Cherie Blair is not only the main breadwinner of the family, but has to look after the needs of four children as well as a husband operating under extreme pressure. How she accomplishes this is a lesson for other women feeling the same expectation to somehow be Superwoman.

Spouses of leaders in society

It is lonely at the top, and not just for the leader himself but also for the spouse. Having a husband busy trying to solve the world’s problems requires spouses of these leaders to be self-sufficient. There is also the question of self-identity, of needing to be a person in your own right instead of merely being known as somebody’s wife. Cherie Blair hits the nail on the head when she describes her desire for herself and other spouses to be recognised as “having a brain and not just a husband.”

Aspiring politicians

There is no doubt that Tony Blair is not only a good politician but an excellent statesman. When he took office, Britain struggled with Britain’s problems. By the time he stepped down, Britain was a key player in the global arena. The country came a long way under his leadership. My hope is that more politicians of his character and calibre step forward because our world sorely needs good leaders now. Until Tony Blair’s own book is released in the later part of 2009, this is the closest we’re going to get to his story for now.

Quotes from the book

My favourite quote

“I felt proud of him then, and I feel proud of him now. I remembered the vulnerable young man I first met, who had just lost his mother, and the resilience and determination that took him all the way to Downing Street and across the globe. But more than anything, I am proud of what he has achieved for us as a family. We went in there together, saw our kids grow up and our family expand, and we had come out the other side still happy and united, all of us, in our different ways, coming to terms with the weight of ten years of experience, and looking forward to the next phase of our lives.” (page 405)

Other quotes

“For a quarter of a century we had been not only lovers but best friends. I always knew there would be things that Tony couldn’t talk about, but I also knew that he would never lie to me, which is why I was 100 percent behind him over Iraq…

“There wasn’t one prime minister’s wife who hadn’t talked about how lonely it could be at Number 10, and I think this is particularly true for the Prime Minister himself. No matter how many advisers there are bringing up the rear, in the end everything rests with you…

“The job itself was so demanding and tough, I was determined that – as a family – we would do everything we could to make it easier for him, and make home a haven when he needed just to be himself.” (page 343)

Other reviews of the book

Bel Mooney provides a relatively objective review, acknowledging the same faults that other reviewers point out about the author yet able to appreciate the good points about the book.