Sir: In his kind report of my Booker speech in Saturday's Independent, John Walsh said I had described British culture as a "vegetating catastrophe". This is not so. What I said was that a French writer (Celine) had once described Russia in that perceptive phrase. I went on:
The British do not go in for catastrophes. We are content to vegetate. And as long as you vegetate you are staving off catastrophe.
The distinction, if you are the cabbage in question, is important.
Of my attack on nostalgia, Mr Walsh says that a return to the past can be a search for meaning. He is clearly right; not to understand that would be to overlook one of the sources of the Renaissance. He also makes an excellent point about the cramping effect of journalism on modern fiction, which I wish I had included in my speech.
What I criticised specifically were the Prince of Wales's pastiche villages, nationalist politicians trying to revive long-dead enemies, costume dramas on TV, our reversion to a tired form of modernism (brilliant in its day) in art, and the sort of historical biographer who informs us excitedly that they had sex then too.
I hope Mr Walsh agrees that there is little new meaning to be had from such sources, which are part of the national escapism so evident in our politics. Perhaps that is why Virginia Bottomley looked so displeased at my speech?
MP for Buckingham (Con)
House of Commons