Books: Dark Horses by Karl Miller, Picador pounds 16.99: Blood on the fax

Karl Miller is probably best known as the founder-editor of the London Review of Books, one of the most intelligent and ambitious cultural journals of our time. It started up in 1979 while the TLS was a casualty of print strikes, and Miller left it in 1992, after he and the co-editor and LRB proprietor Mary-Kay Wilmer had, in his sober words, ceased to get on. Miller alludes to this briefly, and without rancour. There are few embarrassing revelations in this, his second volume of memoirs, many will be disappointed to learn.

Miller's editorship was distinguished by courageous features no longer evident in the LRB. There was a comprehensive coverage of new fiction; he regularly printed long and original short stories by emergent non-coterie writers, and he presided over what he calls here a "stormy" letters page. Blood was spilled on those pages over issues like the 1984 miners' strike, after Miller printed reviews that took opposing sides.

This memoir supposedly coheres by linking his experiences of four editorships at the Spectator, New Statesman, the Listener and LRB over a 34-year period. In fact much of the book has previously appeared as separate newspaper articles or as university lectures. Hence there is a certain disjointedness apparent both between and within some of the chapters. An impressive essay on the early anti-semitism of Graham Greene turns, without warning, into a short encomium on the novels of Saul Bellow. There is a brilliant chapter on the hypocritical media persecution of football stars Eric Cantona and Paul Gascoigne, though what this has to do with anything else is at first perplexing.

But about half way through Dark Horses you suddenly realise that the book is in fact impressively unified by the dialectical philosophical outlook of its author. Miller hates adversarial extremes and intolerance. He is militantly pro popular culture(football) and anti the cult of the Great Writer as exemplified in the nastier sides of D H Lawrence and T S Eliot.

In his four editorial posts, between 1958 and 1992, Miller had dealings with most of the important political and literary figures of the day. He was books editor at the Spectator in the late Fifties, when it declared itself to be anti-establishment but when Evelyn Waugh was still sending in reviews written in copperplate. In 1967 he was ticked off in the Ritz by W H Auden for ruining the Listener by injecting some zestful Sixties spirit into it. He liked to solicit reviews from sources as diverse as Tory cabinet ministers, Angela Carter and Paul Foot. The sum of all this vertiginous diversity has led him to the philosophical position of a "dialectical uncertainty" - meaning that truth is partial and that tolerance of left and right opinion, of popular culture and the abstruse is vital in all cultural spheres, whether it be in a journal, the BBC or society as a whole.

This dialectical model works impressively in his fine chapter on the fiction of V S Naipaul, of which he says: "Opposites coincide there. Extremes meet. Achievement end failure can be found in one another's arms, and so can sympathy and contempt, scorn and pity." But as a rule, his literary judgements are most acute when the writers are not his lifelong friends. His chapter on Kingsley Amis mentions him in the same breath as Jane Austen, but does not work hard enough to justify Amis as "among the very best of the comic novelists of the English tradition". I for one can't convince myself that Jake's Thing is quite as good as Peregrine Pickle.

Likewise he gives a detailed picture of the political contradictions apparent in the pro-Zionist, pro-Ian Paisley Conor Cruise O'Brien, but sunnily exculpates him by saying he has "an exceptional literary talent [applied to a] defence of the public interest and a succession of good causes". Similarly his young Ayrshire journalist friend Andrew O'Hagan and his former doctoral student Blake Morrison are also let off lightly and unconvincingly with regard to their ethically controversial studies of the Bulger case.

This is a brilliant, original, at times irritating book which eschews lively vignettes of the famous in favour of a sustained moral examination of the mediums in which they express themselves. It also has some memorable jokes. Miller at one point describes Ann Widdecombe as a "Gothic spaewife" and says of R S Thomas that "he can come on as if he were a threat to practically everyone who has ever lived, except Owen Glendower". It is worth reading for those two lines alone.

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform