Sweeney, John Thomas 1958-
SWEENEY, John Thomas 1958-
PERSONAL: Born 1958.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Bloomsbury Publishing, 38 Soho Square, London W1V 5DF, England.
The Life and Evil Times of Nicolae Ceausescu, Hutchinson (London, England), 1991.
Purple Homicide: Fear and Loathing on Knutsford Heath, Bloomsbury (London, England), 1997.
SIDELIGHTS: In his nonfiction books, journalist John Thomas Sweeney chronicles the events contributing to both the rise and fall of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and the British Parliamentary election race between Neil Hamilton and Martin Bell. Sweeney adopts "gonzo" journalism techniques that include writing in first-person narrative, minimal attempt at objectivity, and a personalized political agenda. In a review of Purple Homicide, Edward Pearce wrote in the Times Literary Supplement, "John Sweeney is a trying fellow. His prose, wearingly hectic and chippily demotic, comes out in a tumble, and he is partisan in the way of a headbutter reaching for another man's lapels." On the other hand, Observer critic Anthony Burgess, reviewing Sweeney's The Life and Evil Times of Nicolae Ceausescu, complimented the author's "admirable journalism. Sweeney's line is the personal and immediate."
Times Literary Supplement critic Mircea Iorgulescu found Sweeney "unable in The Life and Evil Times of Nicolae Ceausescu to rid himself of the tyranny of journalistic cliché. He does not even try." Iorgulescu faulted Sweeney's efforts to reveal the rotten core of the Ceausescu regime as "a very salesworthy, gruesome story, based on the repetition of stereotypes and on a long string of piquant, excessively emphasized details." Marek Kohn, writing in New Statesman & Society, similarly said, "Sweeney has a weakness for garish images as a substitute for explanation, writing at one point of a Romania held in the 'decadent, perfumed palm' of the Ottoman Empire." Kohn described Sweeney's work: "The start of Sweeney's tale finds the author right there, in the first person, surrounded by putrefying corpses; and strafed, shortly thereafterwards, by Kalashnikov bullets. His version of Romania's past comes with buckets of blood, Vlad the Impaler, and a digression on vampirism." Kohn also noted that in "the course of his research, Sweeney devoted considerable mischievous energy to soliciting recollections from figures in British public life who had paid court to the dictator."
Sweeney borrows his subtitle for Purple Homicide: Fear and Loathing on Knutsford Heath, from the gonzo socio-political writings of American writer Hunter S. Thompson. Of this work, Pearce wrote, "All the Sweeney qualities are present in Purple Homicide, a book both irksome and essential." Although Pearce applauded Sweeney's research into the private remarks made by the political rivals whose opposing campaigns are the center of the book, he remarked that "for all the work done and the indignation Hamilton inspires in him, Sweeney writes too noisily for the book as a whole to be effective." Reviewing the book in the Observer, William Leith stated, "This is a story about how politics is sometimes very little to do with technical stuff, and a lot to do with things such as personal style, and not being hideously deformed." Leith continued, "The book is written with the spirit of a reporter who is drunk on the events he is reporting." He concluded that "Sweeney is not a model of impartiality. He is a model of obsessive, contemptuous ranting, and a tireless trawler for detail."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
New Statesman, March 29, 1991, pp. 36-37.
Observer, April 14, 1991, p. 62; October 17, 1997, p. 18.
Publishers Weekly, August 17, 1998.
Sunday Times Books, August 9, 1998, p. 10.
Times Literary Supplement, May 24, 1991, p. 13; January 2, 1998, p. 26.*