Leading article: Look back in enmity

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And so one of the longest, bitterest and most entertaining literary feuds of recent times goes gentle into that good night. The Nobel prize-winning novelist V S Naipaul and the best-selling travel writer Paul Theroux sealed their reconciliation with a handshake amid the old tomes and new celebrities that crowd Hay-on-Wye at this time of year. Authors concerned with gravitas and structure both, they could not but appreciate the symmetry: this was the very place where they had fallen out so dramatically 15 years before. Conciliation services were supplied by Ian McEwan, whose novels include Enduring Love and whose latest work, Solar, features a Nobel laureate (albeit a physicist) – so you might say he was supremely equipped for the task.

Naipaul and Theroux, it has to be said, were spectacularly nasty about each other; "misogynist", "skinflint" and "bore" being among the least offensive of the epithets hurled. And rewarding though it is to be able to report a flash of cultural sweetness and light in these dark economic times, alas, the handshake cannot but leave a huge, writer-shaped, hole in our national life. Where are the verbal duellists of the future, we ask? Will the small world of Hay-on-Wye ever see the like? Vintage vitriol never goes out of fashion.

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