As ever, with Edwina Currie’s writing, this is an easy read. She’s funny, and she doesn’t change what she wrote in her diary at the time except to edit for length. So, tactless remarks about John Major — she was still smarting after the end of their affair — remain in place, as do comments about Virginia Bottomley, London’s greatest head-hunter, whom at first she says she cannot stand and then commutes her verdict into not being able to warm to her. Strange, because Virginia Bottomley is a very warm person, and unwise, because one day Currie might need her help!
Alongside all this, you get a strong picture of a passionate European; a woman out of love with her party; a woman of strong convictions and warm blood, who finds her husband’s lack of communication unbearable (they split during this period).
You also get something of a picture of her as a lapsed Jew. First, she joins Conservative Friends of Israel, having fallen for Rabin after a speech in December 1992, when she writes of a “new prophet singing a new song.”
Then, in 1996, she recounts the story — three months after she discovered it — of her father sitting shiva for her when she married “out” in 1972. What completely threw her was her brother Henry, who told her about it, admitting he had been part of the minyan.
He simply said: “Oh yes; well you know what Dad was like.” She continued: “No, I didn’t. Not the complete depth of the horror. I never thought he was capable of that… Wicked man, wicked religion”. She utters no caveat that most Jews would never sit shiva for a child who married “out”. And she despairs of the Israelis bombing southern Lebanon, having praised Rabin only four years before.
Her 1993 Israel trip was a mixture of admiration and disappointment. Her reflection on Yad Vashem — that it was not only Jews who died at Nazi hands — hardly needs saying, given the numbers of left-wingers, gays, mentally ill and others caught up in the net and killed.
She also confuses the anti-Nazi Lutheran theologian Pastor Martin Niemöeller with the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber — who would have been most surprised to have been referred to as a Christian! She also clearly thought that Niemöeller had perished, yet he survived. Perhaps she confused Niemöeller once more, this time with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed.
Meanwhile, when buying her mother a flat, she was infuriated by her mother’s view that all Jews are honest, after discovering that the beds she bought from previous owners, whose mattresses she had not checked, were disgusting.
The diaries are full of casual references to her background, of wonderful accounts of her daughters’ successes, and of her own sexual yearning.
She comes across as witty, warm, impatient, often — but by no means always – right, such as over salmonella in eggs, somewhat negative about Judaism — but never denying who she is — and charming. And that’s what makes the book, rather than what’s on the record, worth a quick read.
Rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger is the minister of West London Synagogue