Sunday 11 December 2016

Culture warriors now making war on writers of fiction

As bestselling novelist Lionel Shriver discovered last week, putting yourself in other people's shoes is now off-limits

Published 18/09/2016 | 02:30

Plain-speaking: Novelist Lionel Shriver gives as good as she gets. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Plain-speaking: Novelist Lionel Shriver gives as good as she gets. Photo: Gerry Mooney

'As Lionel Shriver made light of identity, I had no choice but to walk out on her," said an arresting Guardian headline last weekend about one of my old friends.

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Now, I'm well aware that Lionel is plain-speaking about what she considers pretentious rubbish in a way that frequently gets up the nose of the conventional literati. I always, for example, enjoy her outings on programmes like the BBC's Newsnight, where she applies common sense to issues that have innumerable cultural warriors disappearing incoherently up their own bums. But she's polite, highly intelligent and gives much thought to what she says as well as what she writes.

At 15, Mary Ann Shriver - from a devout Presbyterian family in North Carolina - changed her first name to Lionel. I'm one of those friends who told her long ago that since she had been so perverse as to choose a name that intrigued everyone, she wasn't getting any sympathy from us about the sheer tedium she endures explaining why to almost everyone she meets. I've known her for around 30 years and always greatly admired her obsessive dedication to her trade and the cold, curious, unsentimentally honest, sardonic eye she casts on reality.

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