Fiction: The Hornet's Nest by Jimmy Carter
REVIEWED BY TERENCE BLACKER
THE HORNET’S NEST
by Jimmy Carter
Simon & Schuster £17.99 pp465
So the great peanut farmer president has, in his eighth decade, turned his formidable energies to fiction. There will be those, in these cruel and cynical times, who will greet the news with a certain weary sigh. Jimmy Carter, for all his distinguished work on behalf of peace and equality, remains something of a joke figure.
He may have won a Nobel prize, and have set up a foundation for the furtherance of all things good and virtuous, he may pop up at times of international crisis to play the role of honest broker, yet still there is something inexplicably irritating about the man — the pearly teeth maybe, or those crinkly, sincere eyes. His written work hardly helps. Among his 16 published books — Carter gets to his desk at five and puts in three hours of word-work before the day begins — are collections of thoughts, poems and memories with such uplifting titles as Everything to Gain, Sources of Strength, Why Not the Best? and The Virtues of Aging.
Normally it would be bad form to introduce an author’s image and personality into a review of his novel but, since it was precisely those things that caused The Hornet’s Nest to be published at all, it is only fair to point out that the same quality of dogged self-importance that makes it difficult to take Carter entirely seriously as a man is also evident in his fiction.........
Fiction requires a certain ruthlessness and it may be that the former president is just too nice a man to contemplate messy matters of death and sex without embarrassment. All the same, he could have tried slightly harder when, in the closing pages, he describes Ethan Pratt approaching a moment of passion: “He was overwhelmed with a feeling of tenderness, and was also aroused sexually, which his tight trousers made obvious to both of them.”
This is a well-meaning but lifeless novel. In celebration of President Carter’s 80th birthday two days ago, we should all wish him a healthy, busy — and entirely fiction-free — old age.