By Stephen Pollard
July 13, 2009
There was a fantastically awful review of Ten Days in yesterday's Sunday Times; a real sledgehammer job.
You can get a flavour of it from the last sentence:
most Cromwellian republican among us might — on reading Pollard’s
description of Prince Charles’s public statements as “the inappropriate
rantings of a singularly ignorant bore” — feel that the words “pot” and
“kettle” come to mind.
Call me strange, but I rather like getting such OTT knife jobs. It's better to be attacked than ignored, after all (although don't get me wrong - I'd prefer a rave). My Blunkett book was lucky enough to get mainly good reviews, although the only one I still remember properly was (also, ahem, in the Sunday Times) by Lesley White, which said I had
pulled off the unprecedented feat of both canonising its
subject and expediting his fall from grace. Its sales will be borne on
the wings of dazzling publicity and — here’s the best bit — it was
published 10 days before Christmas, a perfect stocking-filler for the
season of forgiveness. How lucky can a wet-nosed helpmate get?
I can understand Alain de Botton's reaction to bad reviews ( “I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make.”) but my view is that ifyou dish it out, you ought to be able to take it. I've written some pretty hostile reviews in my time. Such as this:
I cannot remember ever before feeling pain when reading a book. Boredom, yes. Annoyance, yes. But not real, physical pain. Pariah,
however, is so turgid, so overwritten, so trite, so predictable and
above all so deeply, deeply pointless that, as I forced myself through
yet another of its 170 pages (one hundred and seventy: it doesn't sound
a lot but, trust me, it makes Clarissa feel like a sprint), I began to ache, and not just in my head.
For some reason, Nairn has something of a reputation as a
polemicist. A prerequisite, one would have thought, is the ability to
write sentences that carry the reader along, rather than make you
shudder in horror. This is a characteristic paragraph:
Now shorn of overseas territories, the outreach of a revived
commercial imperium of course sought the maximum in prestige and
post-colonial standing. Being placed "in the sun" and salient on the
world stage does remain quite important to capital of this kind. It was
not eclipsed by the loss of India, and certainly not by the crocodile
tears of the Hong Kong withdrawal in 1998. The fundamental role of the
United Kingdom state and its ideology, Britishness, is to hold eclipse
in that sense at bay. A measure of democracy has come to be required
for that task - but only the clinical minimum dosage recently praised
by Prof Eric Hobsbawm, in an essay just before the election.
Are you still there? What does that mean? There is no context, no
explanation. Capital of what kind? What is Britishness as an ideology?
What is the clinical minimum dosage of democracy? Nairn certainly
doesn't make it clear, and I'm afraid I really can't be bothered to
So bring on your worst, Richard Vinen, although I wonder if you bothered to read the intro, in which I make clear it is not a history book but a series of essays about contemporary Britain, so to slam it for not having enough history is what one might call an interesting criticism...