The Speechwriter by Martin McKenzie-Murray

It is a funny old time to be writing political satire. I mean, satire is everyday reality in our year 2021. And so, when a political satire comes along, I am eager to see where it can possibly go. The answer is inwards, and in Martin McKenzie-Murray’s The Speechwriter, we explore the inner workings of a nascent political powerbroker.

Toby has grown up with the collected speeches of Churchill and the injustice of being denigrated for his seriousness at school. In the first of many literal embodiments of frustrated ideals, a young Toby with gastro literally soils his collected speeches of Churchill before he has had a chance to read them. In Toby we have a frustrated idealist: frustrated by growing up in an environment that doesn’t seem to care about lofty ideals, and frustrated by his own inability to transcend them.

This is a satire for all of us who can see ourselves in Toby. He is McKenzie-Murray’s everyman of early 21st century political idealism, crystallised by The West Wing and running afoul of the growing tide of populist rhetoric. As each day of the last few years seems to have brought a new level of crisis to the world and the absurdity of political response, I take heart in one of Toby’s early acts of government service. In a moment more Parks and Recreation than The West Wing, Toby and a local constituent share a moment of connection while burying birds that have been the victims of feral cat attacks on the median strip: ‘Silently we dug six small trenches with our hands. I slowed my pace to match Arthur’s, who seemed to be struggling, uncomplainingly, with arthritic fingers.’

A satire needs heart as much as cleverness to be effective, and in these moments Martin McKenzie-Murray delivers – on the median strip.

Marie Matteson is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

Cover image for The Speechwriter

The Speechwriter

Martin McKenzie-Murray

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