The Critic at Large in the next issue of the New Statesman, out tomorrow is broadcaster, poet and children’s author Michael Rosen. Rosen asks why children’s novelists are so seldom consulted by politicians on the best way of encouraging young people to read. Rosen canvasses five possible explanations:
Your rough guide to likely reasons goes like this: 1) The author of a brand-new children’s book about some characters called Wifflies is a celebrity once seen in a jungle, on ice or in Buckingham Palace. 2) The author sold a billion books last week. 3) The author’s writing has been described by a bishop, Tory MP or private-school head teacher as obscene, left-wing, miserable, atheistic, horrific, violent, gay or feminist. 4) A publishing company has republished an old family favourite but edited out nice old family-favourite expressions such as “nigger”. 5) The author is dead, English and classic but (it has just been discovered) had a very, very small penis, was hated by his grandchildren, had an affair with Trotsky and told lies about his incarcerated younger sister “Giddyboots”.
Perhaps the main reason for authors not being asked for a second opinion, says Rosen, is the longstanding official interference with their to intellectually and aesthetically engage their intended audience in schools
Authors and illustrators for children are part of a long history of trying to engage children’s interest in anything from factual, ideological, figurative and graphic traditions … What infuriates me – and virtually every other writer for children I meet – is that the past 30 years has seen successive governments waging war on the democratic sharing of [their] wisdom.
Also in tomorrow’s NS, our lead fiction reviewer Leo Robson discusses John Lanchester’s Capital, a sprawling novel of London life. Robson departs significantly from the early praise heaped on the book (Lanchester’s former London Review of Books colleague Andrew O’Hagan described it as “amazingly good; I doubt there will be a better novel this year. The well-written English novel of society – of the here and now – is such a rare beast, and especially rare is the one that also captures with style the inner lives of its characters”). Robson, for his part, acknowledges Lanchester’s grasp of London’s sociology and demography, but wonders if all that knowledge amounts to a satisfying novel:
Lanchester is fluent in the relevant codes at every level of society and on every rung of the property ladder, but vignettes don’t add up to a vision. What’s missing is a central device – a scam or legal case. There is a subject of sorts – a harassment campaign aimed at the inhabitants of Pepys Road [the south London street in which the novel is set]- but it has no propulsive force.
Capital has been praised for its social critique, but Robson wonders if Lanchester hasn’t sacrificed depth for breadth:
A portrait of metropolitan decadence, the novel is all surfaces and stereotypes, all symptoms. The damning truth we yearn to hear has yet to be delivered.
Also in the 5 March issue of the New Statesman: Jane Shilling and Jonathan Derbyshire on Rachel Cusk; Norman Lamont on Trita Parsi’s book about Obama’s Iran policy; Kate Mossman on Madonna; and Will Self’s Real Meals.