My copy of Jessica Rudd’s first novel Campaign Ruby has a sticker on the front that says “one of the 50 great books you can’t put down”. That was certainly true in my case. This book is funny, with occasional laugh-out-loud moments which can be a bit embarrassing if you are reading it on a plane as I was. It gives an interesting and surprisingly accurate portrayal of Australian politics, and it contains some remarkable coincidences which are all the more interesting because of who Jessica Rudd really is.
Jessica is the daughter of Kevin Rudd, Australia’s most recent ex-Prime Minister. Kevin Rudd was overthrown by his female deputy in a party room coup in July 2010, who very soon afterwards called an early election. In Campaign Ruby the central narrative revolves around an election campaign which is called following the overthrow of a male prime minister by his female deputy in a party room coup. Jessica Rudd wrote the book during 2009, in China where she lives with her investment banker husband. At the time, her father was riding high in the polls, so there is no way that she could have known that some aspects of her book would come true within the year, or that her publishers would eventually bring forward the public launch of her book and order a second edition from the printers to capitalise on the real life 2010 election campaign which Campaign Ruby seemed to prophesy.
Ruby Stanhope is a London investment banker who has been made redundant due to the global financial crisis. An unashamedly ‘Bridget Jones’ like character, Ruby’s response to her sacking is to send an ‘up yours’ email to the global staff of her company. The email goes viral, and she quickly becomes aware that it has made her both famous and unemployable. Ruby dons fabulous shoes and gets drunk on a couple of bottles of Australian pinot noir as a coping mechanism. Waking up with a hangover to discover that she has purchased a non-refundable airline ticket to Australia, Ruby travels to Victoria to visit her aunts, and through a series of quirky coincidences and mishaps ends up working as an advisor for the Leader of the Opposition (referred to throughout the book as the LOO) in an Australian federal election campaign.
One of the things that stuck me about this book is how accurately Rudd portrays the current state of Australian politics. It is telling that nowhere in the book is there any hint of which side of politics is which. The parties contesting the election are indistinguishable in their policies, and therefore the campaign becomes one about ‘trust’, personalities, and who can make the least public gaffes in the lead up to election day. The media, uninterested in real policy or anything of substance, resorts to dirty tricks to try and get the dirt on various candidates, and Ruby emerges bloodied but undefeated in the skirmishes which follow. It is a sad, but very accurate portrayal of the ‘tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum’ nature of contemporary Australian politics which makes such a novel quite plausible, but this in no way detracts from what is a very funny and entertaining narrative.
This is a great book which will have wide appeal. If you enjoyed Bridget Jones and similar books, then you will enjoy Campaign Ruby. If you have not yet lost the ability to laugh at the absurdity of modern politics then you will enjoy Campaign Ruby, but if you are a rusted on party hack or a ‘conviction politician’ (are there any of those left?) then you might find the book a bit close to home, or get annoyed about a few inaccuracies of political and legal minutiae which might distract you from the fun of it all.
I hope Jessica Rudd continues with her writing career. Apparently her younger brother has put in a request for the plot of her next book; something about the son of a former prime minister and a winning lottery ticket…