Monday 14 November 2022

'Literature appears to have come to an end'

 The 'Books of the Year' features in the more polite newspapers and magazines keep on coming (which is a bit hard on anyone publishing a book in December). As usual, they are best ignored, consisting largely, as they do, of log-rolling, showing-off and polite genuflections to worthy titles that few, including those recommending them, have actually read. However, I was idly glancing at the Spectator's latest batch of 'Books of the Year' when I came across this:

'I'm not saying you have to go back to 1979 and Barbara Windsor's Book of Boobs for a guarantee of excellence ('My boobs will give everyone hours of fun' – which they did), but literature appears to have come to an end. Nothing that's reached me in recent times do I wish to keep on the shelf and reread; nothing of the calibre of Kingsley Amis, Beryl Bainbridge or Muriel Spark exists. I'm sorry she died and everything, but I did think Hilary Mantel frightfully overpraised. Her novels will be placed by history next to Mrs Humphrey Ward's – stock impossible to shift in antiquarian bookshops.'

Blimey. This outspoken fellow is none other than Roger Lewis, whose biography of Charles Hawtrey I greatly enjoyed. He is perhaps a little hard on Hilary Mantel, though I do suspect that some of her earlier novels – eclipsed by the monstrous success of the Wolf Hall trilogy – might be worthier candidates for survival than those three fat volumes. How refreshing it is, though, to read someone's honest – and, I fear, accurate – assessment of the state of things, especially embedded in the annual gushfest of a 'Books of the Year' roundup. Having said which, I must admit that I'm actually buying one of the books recommended...

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