It’s small wonder that The Winding Stair, the first novel by the Conservative MP Jesse Norman, about Francis Bacon, eventually a 17th-century Lord Chancellor but more famous for almost everything else in his life, savours distinctly of authorial identification. Like his protagonist, Norman, who recently resigned as a junior minister, has endured long, agonising years of immaculately connected impotence.
It is not necessary to have read Norman’s widely praised works on Michael Oakeshott, Edmund Burke and Adam Smith to know that he can write. One only has to glance at his letter on the occasion of a previous resignation, from the government of Boris Johnson: ‘you are simply seeking to campaign, to keep changing the subject and to create political and cultural dividing lines mainly for your advantage.’ Its continuing salience perhaps explains Norman’s scant attainment of favour under Rishi Sunak.
Early in The Winding Stair, Francis’s amiable father, Sir Nicholas Bacon, reminisces about ‘the time of Lord Cromwell’: ‘Now that was a man of power, Frank! … I recall he had a painting by Master Holbein at his house that caught his strength, but I never much liked it.’ Norman here surely alludes, with respectful dissent, to his new genre’s