Saturday, January 16, 2010
Various trivia has set me thinking about critics. I upset one recently by critiquing their critique, if you see what I mean. Apparently the biter does not like to be bit.
I can across an interesting story on the London site – another nickel in the machine:
It concerns a rather arrogant young man called Colin Wilson. He was a 24 year old working class boy from the Midlands who turned up in London in 1956 and who wrote a book. He had no education, having left school at 16 and was living rough on Hampstead Heath while writing each day in the British Museum. In short, he was the perfect working class hero to be taken up by the upper class London glitterati who liked to think that this was the new age of the common man. This was the era of ‘The Angry Young Man’.
The book was 'The Outsider', a collection of essays that explored the concept of alienation in literature (with a capital L). I always associate this with Camus. The book was a sensation, selling out on the first day of publication. It did not just receive critical acclaim; it was elevated to the highest levels, as possibly the most important book of the decade.
Wilson was lionised with lots of moody B&W pics taken of him on Hampstead Heath and living with his girlfriend Joy in Notting Hill – so wonderfully Bohemian – and Wilson revelled in it. Quote: 'I had taken it for granted that I was a man of genius since I was about 13'.
But those who live by the sword tend to die by it, and that goes double for the press. It was not long before the tabloid reptiles discovered that Wilson lived rough on Hampstead Heath to avoid paying maintenance to his wife and child. Then Joy’s parents turned up to rescue their daughter from a life of sin........
What is interesting is to track the written opinion of a literary critic, Philip Toynbee, son of the famous historian and father to Princess Polly, the Queen of political correctness.
He originally described “The Outsider” as “luminously intelligent” but within months was writing “I doubt whether this interesting and extremely promising book quite deserved the furore which it seems to have caused.' Toynbee reviewed Wilson’s second book in ’57, ‘Religion and the Rebel’ as ‘a vulgarising rubbish bin’ and noted that ‘The Outsider’ had been 'clumsily written and still more clumsily composed.' Ho hum.
Wilson made around £1m (in modern money) from 'The Outsider'and went off to live in the Westcountry where he wrote New Age conspiracy and horror books and married Joy.
But what are we to make of critics with such flexible memories? Well, they must be appeased if you write literary novels where fashion seems to be almost everything. But if you write commercial novels then just snap your fingers and ignore them. Your work either sells or not.
So here’s a challenge. What was the most ludicrous/pompous/vicious review that you ever read?
1) I am now on Twitter under the name 'johnlambshead'.
2) An eArc of my novelette, Storming Venus, can be viewed for free at Baen's Universe:
This story is a sequel to Storming Hell.