“Does a big fish ever break the line and get away?”:  Boris Johnson, G. K. Chesterton, and the Case of the Deadly Prime Minister

“A thing can sometimes be too extraordinary to be remembered.”  With that intriguing overthrow of conventional wisdom opens “The Fad of the Fisherman,” a short story by G. K. Chesterton, first published in 1921.  “If it is clean out of the course of things,” Chesterton expounds, “and has apparently no causes and no consequences, subsequent events do not recall it; and it remains only a subconscious thing, to be stirred by some accident long after.  It drifts apart like a forgotten dream….”

A contemporary illustration for Chesterton’s story by William Hatherell, showing the “extraordinary” incident.

In light of the extraordinary and memorable events unfolding over the last few days like a crumpled serviette disclosing the spat-out remains of a prolonged Partygate feast – the rules-breaking incident that contributed to the eventual if only reluctantly heeded call for the resignation of Prime Minister Boris Johnson – the notion that something might be “too extraordinary to be remembered” does not quite ring true.  So much in politics these days is head-scratchingly, gut-churningly out of the ordinary, the Trump Presidency and its aftermath being a prime example.  And yet, the violation of established codes of conduct have become so flagrant and frequent that we, or some – or, I suspect, many – of us no longer recognize them to be unprecedented, unethical or unconstitutional.

It now takes greater effort to remember, if ever we knew, what once were assumed to be formal matters of procedure and protocol.  And we struggle as well to connect the tell-tale dots that, if they were examined closely – like some seemingly random Rorschach blots – and in relation to each other, might enable us not only to arrive at the “causes” – the egoistic and downright egomaniacal roots – of socio-political developments but also to realize the “consequences” of our inattention to pattern-forming details whose neglect profoundly compromises our ability to draw meaningful inferences from the reality of facts and fictions with which we are confronted: the erosion of trust in political figures who, instead of serving their country, help themselves and cling to power as if they were absolute monarchs.  How reassuring, then, are the ratiocinations that bring many a murder mystery to its logical if not always satisfactory conclusion.

It is the conclusion rather than the opening lines of Chesterton’s story – a story involving the unlawful actions of a Prime Minister – that brought to mind the astonishment with which I first reached it – a solution that I, appropriating shelved products of popular culture rather than reviewing them, am under no compulsion to withhold.  The by me highly anticipated conclusion to Mr. Johnson’s sorry and increasingly sordid Downing Street saga, meanwhile, remains unknown while I am writing this, the 822nd entry in my journal.  I might as well say it flat out: the Prime Minister in Chesterton’s story is a murderer who gets away with his crime.

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