In Competition No. 2351 you were invited to supply an imaginary letter from an offended author to a literary editor complaining pompously of an unfair or inaccurate review. Anthony Burgess, by way of a lark, once reviewed one of his own books, but failed to complete the jest by writing to the literary editor to complain about it. I believe all such protests to be futile and undignified, but I have sometimes enjoyed a furious scholarly battle in the London Review of Books in which two, say, philologists bellow at each other like the grappling dinosaurs in Disney’s Fantasia. The prizewinners get 25 [pounds sterling] each, and the Cobra Premium beer goes to Kathleen Bell.
>From Lydia Shaxberd
Sir: It is always a pleasure to be noticed by so august a publication as The Redditch Journal and Advertiser. However, your headline, ‘Soft Porn Attempt By Local Author’, does little justice to the complexity of my recent, self-published novel, Two Kissing Cherries. I therefore beg the hospitality of your columns to correct a few unfortunate errors.
First, I am hardly local. I live in Bidford-on-Avon, twelve miles from central Redditch, in a different county. Second, my nomination for the Bad Sex Awards, while flattering, suggests you have missed the point. The Siamese twins’ encounter with the nursery school teacher is not a hymn of ecstasy but an attack on all that is wrong with society, from excessive individualism to school league tables. The sex was meant to be bad. Finally, in labelling my novel ‘simplistic’ you miss the point –the book is intended for 8-to-12-year-olds.
Sir: In his notice of my novel, This Side Up, Monkey, your reviewer, exhaustively wedded to the limiting and discredited canons of realist fiction, complains that the section in which Carlos #911 pursues Gatorade by helicopter over the still burning ruins of Canary Wharf is ‘as fatuously improbable as anything in a low-rent soap opera of a pulp SF story’. I suspect that this dismissive formulation masks his covert attachment to time-expired values such as ‘originality’ and ‘inventiveness’; it certainly exposes his profound ignorance of the very high culture to which he is nominally devoted. As anyone with a modicum of literary education could have told him, it is an interrogative and ‘decentred’ reworking of the fable of Bellerophon and Chimera. A reviewer who rejects the popular while remaining a stranger to the classics is simply disqualified from passing serious judgment on the complex dynamics of the contemporary novel.
Sir: I have always regarded your magazine as a beacon of enlightenment in a philistine world. Imagine, then, my disappointment at finding my book, Peacocks and Parakeets: Forty Years of Consular Service, offered to a reviewer animated by juvenile spite. The fruit of my long and painstaking labour was dismissed with a careless sneer. I say ‘careless’ advisedly because the piece was riddled with error. My faithful driver was Sandro not Sancho; my final posting was as Vice-Proconsul not Pro-Viceconsul; I was presented with a stuffed goat’s udder not on my departure but on my birthday. The list is endless. Moreover, I think it offensive at best to have used a mistakenly captioned photograph of a warthog as occasion for an ambiguous reference to my wife. My subscription will not be renewed nor, I fancy, will those of my countless friends and former colleagues.
Sir: Is it not possible for your newspaper to employ a reviewer with a modicum of intelligence? Can you not demand proof that he has actually viewed the book he his criticising? I was mortified that my carefully researched tribute to the meandering brooks and crystal rills of our fair country was subjected to such a savage and ignorant commentary in the sports pages of your organ (now lamentably in tabloid form). Your so-called reviewer has hijacked my work for his own ends. He berates me for insensitive timing in its publication, deplores the nationalistic overtones of the title and impertinently lists names he deems more worthy of study. But I have no desire to write about social reformers such as Owen or the seaside town of Sheringham. I trust, Sir, that you will right this injustice by commissioning a proper review of Becks of England at the earliest opportunity.
Sir: I pick up my pen to apprise your indolent reviewer of the magnitude of labours associated with the creation of Contemplating the Good Life. He is evidently unaware of the philosophical debates relating to ‘good’, and can only interpret my argument in terms of some ephemeral television programme peopled by characters with whom I am unfamiliar. I am no ‘couch-potato, one hand on the remote control’, nor is my work a ‘hastily word-processed screed produced with one flick of a button’. Technical apparatus and its slipshod productions have no part in my endeavours. I have always used a Parker fountain pen, medium nib, and my extensive footnotes (ignored by your reviewer) were researched in the dust of real libraries, often in physical discomfort. If he reads them, he will find the highest standards of proof-reading apply, and they bear the marks of a true bookworm.
Sir: One is always delighted to get a revue of one’s book in a salubrious publication, but I must take issue with comments made about my recent offertory to the literary world, noticed by your issue of July 17 (no. 4582), and its inaccuracy as to the points therein made. My study, Mid-Victorian members of Parliament, is not ‘skimpy’ at all, but a highly detailed, easy-readable account, and e.g., Sir Percy Conyngham was not the member for Gillingham Dorset but Gillingham (Kent), the very reason I first researched the parliamentary scene in the period of that period. This entailed thorough and exacting trawls of all records, including those your writer claims I did not ‘bother’ to consult, which is insulting. Cunyngham himself is a fascinating example of exemplary high public standards (unlike your writer), and was first cousin once removed of Peele, not nephew. All other ‘errors’ are likewise true.
No. 2354: Youth/age duet
You me invited to supply an exchange in verse between an oldie and a youngster beginning with Carroll’s line, ‘You are old, Father William, the young man said’ (or ‘cried’ if you prefer Southey’s original version). Maximum 16 lines. Entries to ‘Competition No. 2354’ by 12 August.