When a tawdry commercial website tells me, “You’ve been selected” to be the privileged recipient of its shabby merchandise, I just click on “skip ad” and go back to what I was doing before I was interrupted. When something that purports to be a literary magazine adopts the same technique, I know that the end of the civilised world is at hand. And so it is…
The London Review of Books (LRB) has invited me to take out a “special” discounted subscription.
Why me, I ask? Because, declares the omniscient LRB, “You know good writing when you see it.” And not just good writing, but the best: “by the world’s best authors.” (I’ll tell you who the LRB thinks some of these authors are in a minute). The LRB boasts particularly its admiration for these writers because they write about all manner of stuff including – if I may use the LRB’s fashionable oxymoron – “popular culture.”
According to the LRB, I am some sort of paragon. Not only do I know good writing, but I “appreciate an alternative point of view.” This must mean, I suppose, an alternative to the literary establishment.
Why doesn’t the LRB understand that it is the establishment?
Here are some of its members – the authors I promised to tell you about…
Top of the list is the very unpleasant Hilary Mantel, the talkative apologist for Henry VIII’s iconoclastic toady Thomas Cromwell. You will be asking me to give my reasons for saying that Mantel is a member of the literary establishment. Very well, here are three to be going on with:
She referred to the Duchess of Cambridge as “a shop window mannequin.”
She boasted that she fantasised about murdering Margaret Thatcher and even wrote a short story about it called The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher.
She wrote: “The Catholic Church is not an institution for respectable people.”
Next on the list is James Wood whose qualifications for membership of the leftie establishment don’t come any better than being described as “wonderful” by Martin Amis and “marvellous” by Christopher Hitchens.
Then the mythopoeic Marina Warner. As we have seen, Mantel has nothing but contempt for the Catholic Church while Marina has it in for the nonconformists:
“The sombre-suited masculine world of the Protestant religion is altogether too much like a gentlemen’s club to which the ladies are only admitted on special days.”
Really? Who then were all those Methodist creatures in frocks I came across every day when I was growing up in the back streets of Leeds, who officiated as deacons, sang in the choir – one even played the organ – read the lesson and preached many a sermon?
The LRB suggests Colm Toibin as one of “the world’s best authors.” His novels obsess about homosexuality – and you can’t have better establishment credentials than that. Colm begins many sentences with “I think” – only for the rest of his paragraph to demonstrate that he doesn’t.
And of course here comes the all-time favourite, the North London guru and national treasure himself: Alan Bennett. He is the grammar school boy who believes passionately in state education – a lefty establishment foible that condemns generations of poor children to ignorance.
This then is the LRB’s pantheon of “the alternative point of view.” These “world’s best authors” are all in one another’s pockets and review each other’s books – favourably, inevitably. This does not represent an “alternative.” It is just the opposite: a politico-cultural hegemony incarnate full of Guardianistas and other tribunes of the – if I may coin another oxymoron – left wing conscience.
If you’re looking for a genuine alternative, try The Literary Review