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Revisiting the strange case of The Spin, the New Zealand political novel by Anonymous

Who wrote the novel about a vain, womanising, and corrupt New Zealand political party leader?

Who wrote The Spin? In 1996, now-extinct publishers Hodder Moa Beckett copied the idea of Primary Colors, a steamy, silly, best-selling novel of American political life by Anonymous, and rushed out The Spin, a steamy, silly, okay-selling novel of New Zealand political life by Anonymous. The author of Primary Colors was later revealed as Joe Klein. The author of The Spin remains a mystery.

The book was set during an election campaign. The characters were composites of real-life politicians and political reporters of the time. The parade includes likenesses of Jim Bolger (nice but dim) and Jenny Shipley (a battleaxe); you may or may not recognise the character of Chris Cross, the vain, womanising, corrupt leader of the Freedom First Party.

There was much speculation about Anonymous, as the publisher intended, and the book sold reasonably well. Critically, it was regarded as trash. Colin James, writing in New Zealand Books: “There is no satire, limited insight, little to learn and nothing to tickle. Just salacious salivations…and eruptions of male menopausal heavy breathing.”

The book is a kind of curio of New Zealand politics. As literature, it exists now only as a footnote. From a chapter on New Zealand popular fiction in the Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literatures in English: “The Spin by Anonymous was briefly popular.”

The Spinoff Review of Books has investigated the contents of The Spin, and can declare the following statements in capital letters.

Maybe the author’s a woman, or maybe the author has bad hair

IT WAS WRITTEN BY A MAN OF A CERTAIN AGE

“Susan Lewis was one of the most dangerous journalists cruising the shallow waters of the press gallery. A mass of dark curly hair framed a guileless heart-shaped face and she had the kind of body that seemed to have gone out of fashion with Marilyn Monroe. Susan was in her early thirties, pale skinned with a fabulously pneumatic bust, narrow waist and rounded hips. In an era of the modishly anorexic, the voluptuous Susan had the kind of beauty that appealed enormously to men of a certain age.”

IT’S GOT A PARTY LEADER IN IT YOU MIGHT RECOGNISE

“He had an obsession with plain blue, crisply pressed, single-breasted triple-button suits bought from his favourite tailor off London’s Oxford St…. She said, ‘You have no idea of the length of time that man will spend in front of a mirror before he sets out into the world. Every article of clothing must be perfectly ironed, razor sharp creases, the knot in his tie perfect, every hair on his head slicked into place.’”

IT HAD INSIDE KNOWLEDGE OF JOURNALISTS ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

“His motel room was thick with cigarette smoke and the floor was spread with the detritus of his battered suitcase – old underwear, shirts, socks, newspapers and press statements. On the table beside a bed, a laptop computer and modem were plugged into the phone socket, a drink beside it, and a trail of damp towels marked his earlier path from the bathroom.”

IT’S GOT ERUPTIONS OF MALE MENOPAUSAL HEAVY BREATHING IN IT LIKE COLIN JAMES SAID

“It took Ben three attempts before the receiver found the cradle and by that time Brenda had found something that intensely interested her under the covers. ‘I have to shower,’ he said weakly. Her reply was incoherent and he surrendered.”

IT’S GOT A BREAKING STORY FROM THE CAMPAGN TRAIL IN IT A BIT LIKE THE BREAKING STORY FROM THE CAMPAGN TRAIL THIS WEEK

“He told me this afternoon he had a big story that was going to blow our campaign wide apart. That’s why he isn’t down here in the restaurant or bar. He’s filing the story for tomorrow’s paper.”

IT’S GOT THIS REALLY SPOOKILY PRESCIENT SCENE IN IT

“The Prime Minister whooped with delight and agreed the evidence of the bank statements was enough to ruin Cross. When people saw the depth of his deception, he would be lynched.”

OUR SECOND-HAND COPY HAS THIS INSINCERE INSCRIPTION IN IT

“Dad, happy birthday. Sorry I won’t be here for it. I will be thinking of you all. Love, Scott.”


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