A week in books
Boyd Tonkin is Literary Editor at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Social Policy Editor of the New Statesman and has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes. He has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize for a lifetime's achievement in literature.
Saturday 07 June 1997
She cited Christina Stead as a prime example of a major figure spurned by the cock-eyed tastes of the male literati. Up to a point. When James Wood used to sermonise from his pulpit as the Guardian's critic-in-chief, scarcely a week would pass without some scornful comparison between the wretched work under review and - the unrivalled greatness of Christina Stead. The general case, however, remains strangely true. Women will happily read the most testosterone-fuelled of writers. Terry Pratchett has a horde of female fans; as does Iain Banks; as does Irvine Welsh.
The reverse - to male readers' loss - doesn't yet apply. One reason for this imbalance may lie in feminist rhetoric iself. At least in the grim, sectarian Seventies, many of its advocates planted huge "Men: keep off" signs around the flourishing terrain of women's fiction. Yet literature is no one's private ground; literature is common ground - as Virginia Woolf once wrote. Ironically, one way to haul male readers out of the self-inflicted literary purdah that rightly bothers Lisa Jardine might be to invite more open-minded male critics to review novels by women. (It was Geoff Dyer who, in these pages, hailed Fugitive Pieces as "an unprecedented imaginative creation".)
One other aspect of Anne Michaels's triumph deserves attention. For the second time - after Helen Dunmore's victory - the Orange Prize has gone to a distinguished poet-turned-novelist. Margaret Atwood - also a poet - contended on the shortlist, while one of this spring's boldest novels (Impossible Saints) came from another twin-track creator, Michele Roberts. At the moment, more women than men seem to manage high achievement in both verse and prose. But literature exists to upend generalities - including that one. John Fuller - a relative latecomer to fiction - belongs in this amphibious company; and you can read about his mysterious new novel over the page.
musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 McKamey Manor: This 'extreme' haunted house is the stuff of nightmares
- 2 Russell Brand says he will 'probably' give up acting to focus on his revolution
- 3 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 4 David Beckham's Haig Club whisky is exactly what’s wrong with the Highlands
- 5 Ottawa shootings: Bruce MacKinnon's cartoon is the perfect tribute to soldier Nathan Cirillo
This is what a film sex scene actually looks like on set (mostly awkward)
Revolutionary lost Caravaggio painting 'Mary Magdalen in Ecstasy' identified
After Sam Smith’s Mobo success, is the help of a pushy parent the surest route to stardom?
Pottermore: JK Rowling writes new Harry Potter story featuring 'greying' 33-year-old wizard
JK Rowling to publish new Harry Potter story online for Halloween
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Tony Blair 'says Ed Miliband will lose 2015 general election'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Putin: The US is to blame for almost all the world's major conflicts