I expected to be irritated by Liz Jones's book, I hadn't expected to be bored

Liz Jones's autobiography, Girl Least Likely To, is so drenched in self-pity it becomes draining to read.

In “The Snow Queen”, Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, a splinter from a magic mirror ends up in the eye of a boy, Kai. Made by a troll, this mirror distorts as it reflects, magnifying the bad and erasing the good.

Liz Jones sees the world through a similar filter. In her new autobiography, Girl Least Likely To, pitched as advice on how not to be a woman, she amplifies every small slight while every joy is diminished. She confesses: “Nothing was ever good enough for me.”

Jones – fashion editor of the Daily Mail and mad monarch of confessional journalism – is well known for her self-loathing. And it’s displayed here in abundance. She is “in doubt” about her “right to be alive”. Her appearance turns her stomach. “I am unlovable,” she declares, after her marriage collapses.

What is strange is how this is coupled with a clear self-regard. After all, what more powerful way is there to say one’s life matters than to write an autobiography? And Jones is so self-obsessed that she always seems to put herself at the centre of everything. In an article for the Mail in 2011, she retraced the last steps of the murdered landscape architect Joanna Yeates, somehow making this young woman’s death about herself.

In the autobiography, this manifests itself largely in a belief that the whole world is in cahoots against her. When out dancing as a teenager, she is told that her grandfather has been knocked off his bicycle and killed. Jones’s reaction? Irritation that her mother makes her leave the nightclub and that the boy she likes then kisses someone else: “I learned I was never, ever going to get what I really wanted.” On 11 September 2001, much of the fashion press is at New York Fashion Week and witnesses the twin towers collapse. Jones is envious of these other editors, who are part of “this momentous occasion”.

Knowing Jones’s columns, I had expected to be irritated by her book. What I hadn’t expected was to be bored. The sections on her early childhood are so drenched in self-pity as to be draining.

Later, I started to feel sorry for her. Every experience she has with a man – from the boy in the playground who assaults her to her adulterous husband – is awful. And her life has been ruled and ruined by anorexia. Yet this suffering inspires little empathy with others. Even though she hates her own looks, she doesn’t seem to have any qualms about criticising the appearance of other women.

Her best writing is on the fashion industry: the way journalists are bought with freebies, the industry’s cruelty to animals and the branding of waiflike models as “fat”. On the designer John Galliano’s anti-Semitism trial, she raises questions about the duty of care of his ex-employer Dior.

As Jones’s miseries play out in public, that is something the Daily Mail should consider, too. Her writing doesn’t feel cathartic. Like her starving herself, it feels like self-harm.

Daily Mail fashion editor and monarch of confessional journalism, Liz Jones. Photograph: Chris Lloyd/Camera Press.

This article first appeared in the 29 July 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue

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Shell-shock symphony: Berg’s Wozzeck – opera’s take on post-traumatic stress disorder

Begun in 1914 and premiered in 1925, Wozzeck has class struggle, poverty and mental health problems as its principal subjects.

When I was 12 years old, I made a devastating discovery. The arias from my favourite operas – Rigoletto, Turandot, The Barber of Seville – which I played over and over again, winding and rewinding the cassettes ­until they ceased to work, did not ­necessarily have words that matched the beauty of the music. Intense study of a book I had received for Christmas called Stories from Opera taught me that although some of the soaring melodies I adored carried words about love, death, horror and tragedy, other lyrics, in translation, proved to be people agreeing where to meet later, or misremembering each other’s names.

This crushing disappointment came to mind again recently while I was listening to an edition of Radio 3’s Building a Library, a segment of its regular Saturday-morning CD review, in which new releases are compared and contrasted with archive recordings to find the best listening experience. The reviewer Gillian Moore was surveying the available recordings of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck. She gave credit to several English-language recordings for the clarity they offer newcomers to this work, but eventually concluded that she must recommend a version using the original German, because there were crucial aural elements that could not be reproduced without it.

Moore, now director of music at the Southbank Centre, chose to kick off a series of semi-staged concert performances of operas with Wozzeck. Although undoubtedly an opera, it was a far cry from the fairy stories and doomed romances that filled my pre-teen ears, but it worked surprisingly well stripped of scenery, costumes and other theatrical accoutrements.

Zurich Opera’s presentation placed importance on the orchestral score above all else, allowing its jagged and insistent lines to remind us that this is music born of the dark years between the world wars. Begun in 1914, but delayed while Berg served in the Austro-Hungarian army (it premiered in 1925), it has class struggle, poverty and mental health problems as its principal subjects. The score owes much to Berg’s fellow Viennese composers Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg (Mahler’s widow put up the money for the initial publication of the score). At times in this production, the orchestra was so utterly central that it felt like a symphony with singing, rather than vocal melodies with accompaniment.

The Wozzeck of the title is a poor soldier, flawed and dogged by madness and visions we would probably now see as signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. He scrapes a living for his girlfriend, Marie, and their son by humiliating himself before his military and class superiors (the Captain, the Doctor, the Drum Major) and by participating in degrading medical “experiments”. The star of the show, the German baritone Christian Gerhaher, had to withdraw at the last minute for health reasons, so the British singer Leigh Melrose stepped in to reprise his Wozzeck from the widely acclaimed 2013 ENO production. Despite performing from behind a music stand, Melrose acquitted himself well, handling the transitions between Berg’s three singing styles: “half-singing”, Sprechgesang (or “spoken singing”) and full vocalisation to great effect.

Gun-Brit Barkmin, with a severe Twenties bob and a flowing scarlet dress, was a superb Marie – alternately harsh and soft as the music demanded it, flirting destructively with the Drum Major while conveying how little choice she had in the matter. Of the ensemble, Lars Woldt’s Doctor particularly stood out, using the German libretto to drag every ounce of black comedy out of his character’s fascination with Wozzeck’s bodily functions. The high vocal standard proved Moore’s point about the necessity of the original German libretto – it is a difficult language to sing, because of all the harsh consonants and modified vowels, but when used expertly can be unendingly expressive. We hear this in the way the double “zz” of the title character’s name becomes a derisory bitten-off “tz” in the mouth of the Captain; and Wozzeck’s exclamation in Act I that “Du, der Platz ist verflucht!” sounds so much more accursed and deranged with all those consonants in such close proximity.

The German sociologist Theodor Adorno once called Berg “the foreign minister of the land of his dreams”, much to the composer’s amusement; but, hearing the score for Wozzeck laid so bare, you understand what Adorno meant. The incredible double crescendo on a single B from the orchestra after Wozzeck murders Marie – raised by the conductor Fabio Luisi in this performance to an unbearable volume before being allowed to die away – feels like music from an other-worldly nightmare. Yet, for the war-battered men who inspired Wozzeck, his tragic half-life was all too real.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Isis