His famously stinging critique of Martin Amis's writings on Islam helped to make his name as Britain's foremost literary critic. But Terry Eagleton has saved some of his most poisonous invective for a fellow critic.
In a review published in the London Review of Books today, Eagleton is scathing of debut novelist Craig Raine's first work of fiction, Heartbreak. As a novel, Eagleton wrote, Heartbreak was comparable to defining Jedward as singers – "The description is true but misleading" – adding: "Craig Raine's Heartbreak is a novel in the sense in which Eton is a school near Slough."
The Marxist literary critic, who is professor of cultural theory at the National University of Ireland, suggested that instead of being a cohesive work, the novel was in fact a collection of short stories, "loosely linked by the topic announced in the title".
"But perhaps because the English are said to be averse to buying such volumes, the publishers have represented it as a novel, rather as Jedward are represented as singers," he wrote.
Raine, a poet and novelist and editor of the literary magazine Areté, was unmoved by the criticism.
"I really enjoyed not reading Terry Eagleton's review almost as much as he enjoyed not reading my novel," he said. The novelist added: "In summary, I gather, his conclusion is that I can't write. No piece of writing is flawless, of course. But I don't think it likely that my novel is made up entirely of flaws."
He also claimed that Eagleton's view of his work was coloured by earlier disagreements between the pair. Raine said: "Eagleton didn't like my study of TS Eliot either, nor did Tom Paulin. Now Eagleton doesn't like my novel. This is because he is reading it with a squint – from where I have poked him in the eye in the past."
He added: "Years and years ago, a girlfriend took me to lunch at the family home. Her father took an instant dislike to me, which manifested itself in his carving of the joint. Lean, translucent medallions and fragile veils of beef for everyone else. For me, an umbilical cord of gristle requiring perversely intricate surgery. You get the picture."
Raine, a leading exponent of so-called Martianism – a minor branch of British poetry in the 1970s and 1980s – has links to another of the movement's protagonists, Martin Amis, another target of Eagleton's ire. He wrote in 2007 that Amis was advocating "a deliberate programme of harassing the Muslim community in Britain" to convince them to "get its house in order", a logic Eagleton called "mildly defective".