By Robin Shepherd
If there’s one thing that you should never forget when writing a review of someone’s book it is this: what you write will reflect just as much on you as on the book you are reviewing. Go over the top in praise of something that’s actually pretty run of the mill and it will make you look shallow. Start slamming something that’s a work of art and you’ll look like a philistine who couldn’t get the measure of a much greater mind. Start ranting and you’ll make an ass of yourself. Get personal and you look like a weirdo.
Enter John Crace, feature writer for the Guardian, who earlier this week reviewed Melanie Phillips’ new book, The World Turned Upside Down. If you read the review you’ll learn nothing about Melanie’s book. But you will learn a lot about John Crace.
Here’s how he starts out, mockingly using the first person singular as if it were Melanie Phillips talking about her own reasons for writing her book:
“This book arose from a sense of perplexity that almost everyone in the world thought I was clinically mad. Everywhere I looked there were people who believed boarding a humanitarian aid convoy in international waters and murdering nine people was a little bit naughty. So I did what I’ve always done as a columnist for the Daily Mail; go where my bigotry leads.”
As the piece goes on he slips in just enough references to “the Old Testament”, going to “synagogue”, “Judaism” and the like to be absolutely sure that everyone knows Melanie Phillips is a Jew. Apart from that, there’s no real need to add anything more from his piece. It’s all variations on the theme of the first paragraph.
So what’s all this telling us about John Crace? The first thing is that he’s a weak writer. The clanking, leaden prose looks like something a teacher singles out to a creative writing class of 13 year olds to warn them about the dangers of mixing humour with personal animosity. It never works, and it’s foolish to try.
The second thing it tells us comes precisely out of that all too obvious personal animosity: Crace cannot deal with Melanie Phillips’ arguments, so he goes for her personality. But he can’t even do that with any panache. The “Mad Mel” line has got to be one of the most hackneyed lines in Lefty British journalism. To use it is pretty much like going to get your forehead tattooed with the words: “I’m a dimwit with nothing original to say”.
It’s also more than a little bit of a giveaway about his mindset: the charge of insanity against political opponents was one that was used to bang up Soviet dissidents in lunatic asylums. Crace will be much too shallow to have intended his audience to think along such lines. And he certainly won’t see the irony in his unconscious employment of totalitarian tropes against an anti-totalitarian writer. Nonetheless, it does illustrate with awesome clarity the sheer nastiness that lives inside him.
Which brings us to the third observation revealed by John Crace’s ugly little “review”: bigotry — the charge he makes against Melanie Phillips but which rebounds so spectacularly on himself and his views.
Here’s how my Oxford dictionary defines the word bigot: “A person obstinately and unreasonably wedded to a creed, opinion or ritual.” But that’s John Crace! (in fact that’s the Guardian and most of Britain’s liberal Left). Just look at his writing: packed full of lies and distortions (about Israel mainly); lies and distortions obstinately and irrationally held to regardless of evidence and contemptuous of countervailing views; lies and distortions which form part of a ritualised anti-intellectual agenda which has sunk its claws deep inside the new British establishment.
The real problem for John Crace is that he’s an intellectual pygmy taking on a giant. If he played the arguments rather than the person making them, it’d be a bloodbath and at some level he, like most of Melanie’s critics, probably knows it. That’s why he writes in the way that he does. Poor thing can’t help it. But what a state to be in….