Lord Gnome's Literary Companion edited by Francis Wheen, Verso, £18.95 THE GREAT CRITICISM that has always been levelled against English literary life is that it is all too cosy. Melvyn loves Anita who wouldn't dare to offend Ruth who is indebted to Fay for writing a nice review about David. And so the whole merry-go-round continues.
But "Book Worm", the book reviewer of Private Eye, has always been famously nasty and disrespectful about precious literary reputations. Not that this onslaught takes much courage; every contribution in this collection of book reviews is clothed in anonymity.
The book divides into various themes: Grand Old Stagers (Anita Brookner, Kingsley Amis, Iris Murdoch); Middle-Aged Spread (Malcolm Bradbury, Martin
The blood sport of book reviewing
Amis); The Young and The Hyped '(Candia McWilliam, Hanif Kureishi). Then Bookworm rushes in with insults where more cautious and selfserving media angels fear to tread.
The media-friendly intellectual Michael Ignatieff is simply dismissed as a "classic Canadian bore" and then advised to sponsor park
benches if he really wants to be, remembered.
Mary Wesley's bestselling A Sensible Life is simply "genteel, ladylike, rather diffuse and mildly tedious". We are told that the rumour that Jeffrey Archer does not write his own books is false, simply because "they would be so much better if he didn't". Fay Weldon is dismissed for her "catdeprod psychology".
And so on. Readers looking for gentle Yuletide diversion should steer clear of this poison. But anyone seeking a whiff of the blood sport that English book-reviewing can be should buy a copy immediately.
Fir RS MCGRANDIE