The Truth by Michael Palin, abridged by Libby Spurrier

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Book at Bedtime on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 2-13 July 2012
Keith Mabbut is at a crossroads in life. In his mid-fifties, he has seen a once-promising journalistic career decline into mediocrity, writing histories for business who tell him what to put down for propagandist purposes. Suddenly an offer comes from his agent Silla to write the life of Hamish Melville, activist and fighter for numerous causes across various nations. Melville is notoriously publicity-shy, but Mabbut rediscovers his journalistic instincts and tracks the activist to India. There Mabbut becomes involved in a series of escapades, often putting his personal safety at risk.
As I listened to Alex Jennings' reading of the novel, in which he showed his talent for voices - Highland and Lowland Scots, Standard MP drawl, Iranian refugee and educated Hindi - I became more and more aware that The Truth is not about a character called 'Keith Mabbut,' but rather concerns Palin himself. Ever since he made Around the World in Eighty Days for the BBC, he appears to have had the wanderlust; the desire to visit out-of-the-way places worldwide in the hope of discovering new and exciting experiences. This is precisely what drives Mabbut to write Melville's life.
However there is an interesting irony here; the further Palin travels, and the more he describes what he sees around him, the more we understand his subject position: his travel programmes tell us more about Palin himself than the places he visits. The same also applies to The Truth; there is little attempt to analyse the central character's state of mind, but plenty of description of what Mabbut witnesses in India - the people, the places, the hustle and bustle. Many of these descriptions wouldn't look out of place in a Forster novel, proving beyond doubt that the Passage to India mentality survives, even though it's six decades since India obtained independence.