It’s green and it should be read…
Gossip columnists long ago supplanted the literary editors in media hierarchies, and a writer must be grateful if the press greets the publication of his or her book with anything so quaint as a discussion of its literary merit. When Martin Amis released The Pregnant Widow in February, he discovered that the big issue for journalists was not how he expressed his ideas but whether he had upset Anna Ford. The former newsreader proved she is not at her best when the autocue is off by accusing him of smoking in the hospital room where her husband was dying in 1988 – he didn’t, apparently – and of being a neglectful godfather to her daughter, a charge that even if true had nothing to do with his book.
After this, Ian McEwan must be grateful that Angela Rippon is not greeting the publication of Solar by announcing that he stood her up on a date in 1976, or that Fiona Bruce is not telling the papers he snubbed her at a dinner party during Blair’s first term.
The “story” about McEwan nevertheless remains as irrelevant to his fiction as the babbling about whether the atheist Amis was a good godfather. Inspired by the Sunday Times, the pack has decided that McEwan is satirising a voyage in which he accompanied Rachel Whiteread, Antony Gormley and other enlightened artists to see the effect of global warming in the Arctic.
McEwan does indeed acknowledge his debt to the Cape Farewell expedition, and includes a scene in which the cynical hero contrasts the idealistic conversation of his progressive companions when they are together at dinner with the naked selfishness with which they steal each other’s gloves, scarves and helmets in the ship’s boot room. “Four days ago the room had started out in orderly condition, with all gear hanging on or stowed below the numbered pegs,” says Michael Beard. “Finite resources, equally shared, in the golden age of not so long ago. Now it was a ruin… How were they to save the Earth when it was so much larger than the boot room?”
As scoops go, however, the hacks’ effort was five years late..