Monday, 17 October 2016
The man who dislikes the prize-winning book
You know the cartoons of H. M. Bateman (1887–1970). Typically, they show someone who has committed a social faux pas, or has done something other than she/he is expected to do in the context, and the horrified reactions of others. The title of the above is ‘The man who lit his cigar before the Royal toast’. Some other titles: ‘The girl who ordered a glass of milk at the Café Royal’; ‘The cad who was improperly dressed at the lido’; ‘The man who breathed on the glass at the British Museum’; ‘The culprit who admitted everything’; ‘The guardsman who dropped it’; ‘The builder who finished on time’.
They are very British – all that embarrassment – and they are very clever. The only person who's at ease is the one who's transgressed the codes.
The reader who didn’t think that McBride novel was that special. The reader who thought ditto about Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts. The reader who found The Vegetarian (winner of the Man Booker International Prize) unreadable. The reader who likes Miranda July hugely but thinks her novel was just bad. The reader who did read one Elena Ferrante novel but didn’t feel he needed to read others. Time for some men: the reader who thinks that Geoff Dyer does sometimes have an off-day, an off-book. The reader who would go to the wall for some of Frederick Seidel’s poems, but by no means all. The reader who thinks John Berger is almost wonderful, but he seems to have no sense of humour. The reader who feels that Knausgard, fine, but I’m not interested enough to read it all, let alone have an opinion about it.
I am interested, a little, in how, for any given book or indeed writer, a consensus seems to gather (often fuelled by what’s generally called the social media, where the habit of agreeing is built in), deeming very good or very bad, and anyone who differs finds themselves – as I increasingly do – in a Bateman cartoon.
(I talked today with a writer who’s been publishing for decades, I mentioned a multi-prizewinning novel, said I didn’t rate it, he said him neither but he was ‘not allowed to say that’. Said lightly, jokingly. But ridiculous.)