Northern uproar

Oh dear, I thought that sort of NS review had died out - you know, the nostril- arching, Cambridge-mannered put-down of, well, let's face it, northern oiks.

What Adam Newey writes about Alan Bennett (Books, 17 September), quite apart from his own cliche-crawling style - "cobbled together", "brisk resume", "contribution to the canon" - looks down upon the author of the Kafka plays, Forty Years On and a tiny masterpiece such as The Cycling Party, in a manner recalling Virginia Woolf putting down that other Bennett, Arnold, as a vulgar outsider.

"Yet there's nothing here to make me want to revise my own opinion of most of his work as the literary equivalent of L S Lowry: provincial, nostalgic, inward-looking; the sort of thing that middlebrow Middle Englanders lap up because it eulogises mediocrity . . . allowing them a knowing smirk at those on the rungs below."

From Newey, this is coming it a bit. His piece is a single, seamless knowing smirk. But he is right about the Lowry comparison. Lowry is compassionate, melancholy and truthful, validated by a great public familiar with the very provinces he paints, Salford, like Bradford, being a human stage. Bennett fills theatres, and his books sell out because the life he draws is recognised as the life that people (and even provincial, nostalgic Middle Englanders are people) live.

Edward Pearce
Thormanby, North Yorkshire

This article first appeared in the 24 September 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The war that Bush cannot win