Tuesday Book

DARK HORSES: AN EXPERIENCE OF LITERARY JOURNALISM KARL MILLER, PICADOR, pounds 16.99

KARL MILLER, editor and critic, is fascinated by Doubles, the title of his study of the literature of duality. Foes accuse him of duplicity; editorial balance can look like that. Several writers he espoused turned on him. He speculates on their reasons in his "editorial autobiography", a sequel to his first volume of memoirs, Rebecca's Vest. Dark Horses ends with the editor lying on his bed, fiddling with his "coffee-coloured ivory netsuke", reflecting on life, literature, football, the Labour victory, his health. He musters a muted chuckle: he is Caliban, at last alone on the island. The magic has almost worn off.

But not quite. This book strives to re-create something of the excitement and peril of being an editor and teacher when the contours of culture - literary, sexual, political - altered. He dedicates it "to the writers I have published": a creditable stable, including Brigid Brophy, Conor Cruise O'Brien, Kingsley Amis, VS Naipaul, Seamus Heaney, Tom Paulin, Hugo Williams, Craig Raine. Miller as editor made a difference. But it's hard to put a finger on what that difference is. It has to do with standards, critical debate and engagement, forging a generation; and with the promotion of a kind of no-nonsense philistinism, hostile to Modernism ("still news, when I was a boy. It is now history"). Frances Partridge remarked of an evening with him, "it was like a night out with stockbrokers". He doesn't like stockbrokers, or Bloomsbury for that matter.

He was a young man in a hurry, abandoning Leavis and Cambridge, and going over to the enemy: London, the media. The young man survives, sporting the same chips on his shoulder. He says he is vain, unprogrammatic, with a republican, Scottish, Labourite bent. Time and teaching have made him less iconoclastic than he was at The Spectator, the New Statesman, and - dramatically - at The Listener. Miller traces his editorial antecedents back to 1802, to Francis Jeffrey's Edinburgh Review. Like Jeffrey he's a severe Scot, pitting the Enlightenment against the Establishment, agnostic before the institutions of culture.

Even in retirement, Miller remains reckonable. As a young writer, I knew he was the editor to send things to. As a middle-aged editor I regard him as a star to take bearings from, if not to steer by. What makes his memoir uneasy reading is his double standard. He forgives Amis, Naipaul and O'Brien for opinions he condemns in writers in whom he has a smaller investment. The stockbroker again.

The author of Dark Horses comes over as a malcontent. He allows himself one epiphany: "that night in Ireland" when he attended a ceilidh with Seamus Heaney in Belfast, with the Irish fiddle, elbow-pipes, recitations and singing. "The house was filled with airs that hurt not," says Caliban, "and it seemed like holy ground, though far from clerical ground, or holy- war ground." How far? A gathering of friends - Republican friends - in Belfast in the Seventies. Miller acknowledges himself as the occasion's "sentimental monoglot over-interpreter", but he won't let go his abiding joy at this inclusion. He talks of camaraderie but celebrates outsiders. Duality again.

Martin Bell, who contributed to the London Review of Books, has moved from "balanced, dispassionate, objective" journalism to a "journalism of attachment". Miller seems to concur. A practical man, he knows that responsible criticism and journalism clear spaces for creative, as for political, action. The dynamics of working for his four journals propelled him towards "attachment", especially in the Thatcher years, with the founding of the London Review of Books, Miller's (Mary-Kay Wilmers's, and Susannah Clapp's) indispensable legacy. In Miller's journals, the sense of deliberate design was compelling. LRB controversies had the delicious sense of having been choreographed. Storm clouds were gathered by a deliberate hand; the thunder and lightning might go on for weeks.

Dark Horses is cobbled together. Miller cannibalises his Northcliffe lectures, introductions and journalism. It is no doubt good ecology to recycle, but journalism and lectures are different in kind from book-writing, unless the book is a mere collection of journalism. The pace of Dark Horses is uneven. Miller wants to reflect his multifarious concerns - Eric Cantona, Richard Rorty, Richard Crossman, Fanny Hill. He should have started from memory, making those risky juxtapositions which were the news of Modernism.

Almost-revelations tease us: it's still not clear why Miller left the LRB. He sets out bare facts but doesn't flesh them out. I wish he had; it was an important creation and departure. Perhaps we'll never hear the full story from the horse's mouth. We leave him on his bed, netsuke in hand, gazing out of the window, and beyond it, to the deep blue air ...

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent