For bad taste you can’t beat a dictator

Independent on Sunday, 28 August 2011

The closest I’ve come to a Kalashnikov was when someone presented me with a glass replica of an AK-47 filled with vodka. It’s the kind of thing a dictator might like to display on his sideboard but I couldn’t help thinking there were far too many genuine AK-47s in Tripoli last week, even as jubilant rebels wandered awe-struck through the opulent villas of Colonel Gaddafi’s eight children. One young man from Misrata stripped to a pair of shorts and launched a yellow kayak into a swimming pool belonging to Hannibal Gaddafi – the charmer who beat up his pregnant girlfriend in Paris in 2005 – but he didn’t let go of his rifle as he grinned for the camera.

Other members of the rebel forces sprawled on a gold mermaid sofa in the atrium of a house belonging to Aisha, the dictator’s only biological daughter, or gaped at the circular white bed in the beach-front retreat of his fifth son, Mutassim. The latter is one of the regime’s most detested figures, having commanded his father’s forces in Brega with characteristic savagery, but his house built on stilts in a resort on the outskirts of Tripoli would not look out of place in a European celebrity magazine.

Hot-tubs, infinity pools, stables, a show-jumping course and even a scuba-diving school have been revealed as opposition forces stormed into the family’s mansions, where exercise videos and smashed champagne bottles attested to a hedonistic but health-conscious lifestyle. While Dad was an inveterate camper – remember the fuss he made about erecting a Bedouin tent when he visited European capitals? – Mutassim went for that tricky (unless you have an army of cleaners, or maybe just an army) monochrome look in his dining room. Aisha’s pool complex reminded me of my local gym.

The monumental mania of dictators’ families in the 20th century seems to have given way to a bland, deracinated, rich-kid cupidity: not so much bad taste as no taste at all. If you ignore the broken glass, smashed furniture and ever-present young men with weapons, these villas could belong to a hotel chain or a random collection of celebrities from international sport and the film industry. They’re luxurious but not exactly on the scale of Ceausescu’s vast unfinished palace in Bucharest or Saddam Hussein’s project to rebuild the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II in Babylon on the ruins of the original, thus wrecking one of the world’s most significant archaeological sites.

Saddam had more than 80 palaces, throwing them up at a spanking pace after the 1991 Gulf war and wasting more than £1bn in the process. One of his Baghdad residences boasted four giant cast-iron heads of the dictator in a style that might be characterised as Soviet-Assyrian, prompting as much mockery as Colonel Gaddafi’s monumental fist crushing an American fighter in his Bab al-Azizia compound. The Assad palace in Damascus is built on a hill and looms over the city, an ever-present reminder of the power of the dictator’s family, but the late Foreign Office minister Derek Fatchett noticed a huge crack in the Presidential loo when he asked to use it during an official visit.

Twelve or so years later, it’s hard to think of a better metaphor for the sordid Assad regime than a cracked toilet bowl. And I suspect that one of the most striking images of the downfall of the Gaddafi clan will be those excited young rebels from Misrata, swimming with Kalashnikovs.

Trackers by Deon Meyer

Smuggling, missing persons and an edgy post-apartheid South Africa interlace in a riveting crime novel, the author’s best work yet

Sunday Times, 28 August 2011

Deon Meyer is one of the sharpest chroniclers of post-apartheid South Africa. His crime novels take a hard look at the middle-class affluence that supports an ostentatious ­lifestyle but relies on private security firms to protect it from the less fortunate. Politicians worry about South Africa’s international reputation, but the impact of savage repression in next-door Zimbabwe is never far from people’s minds.

Meyer’s new novel, Trackers, brings all these elements together, along with a plot involving an audacious attempt to smuggle endangered animals across the border. His characters have jobs that put them on the front line, such as the bodyguard Lemmer who makes a welcome return appearance, having featured in an earlier Meyer novel, Blood Safari, in which a wealthy young woman from Cape Town employed him to find out what happened to her brother during the darkest days of the war in Mozambique.

Now Lemmer is trying to settle down in a dusty small town, called Loxton, but an encounter with a bunch of bikers is a reminder that his capacity for violence hasn’t diminished; soon he’s taking on one of the more dangerous jobs of his career, helping a female vet look after a pair of black rhinos as they’re smuggled from Zimbabwe to a wealthy South African farmer who wants to start a breeding programme.

Trackers has an unusual structure: Lemmer’s assignment is one of three apparently separate narratives whose connections are revealed in one of Meyer’s bravura endings. The other two stories feature fascinating new characters, a woman on the run from a violent marriage in Cape Town and a retired police detective who has just taken a job as a private investigator. Milla Strachan’s husband is a newly affluent fund manager who can’t resist showing off his wealth while treating her like dirt; Mat Joubert’s first case as a private eye has him looking into the disappearance of Danie Flint, a perfectly ordinary man who has a run-of-the-mill job as a route planner for a bus company.

In different ways, Milla and Mat are both decent people who find themselves uncomfortable with the values of the nouveaux-riches who thrive in the new South Africa. Living in a bare apartment offered to her by a women’s refuge, Milla applies for a job as a journalist and is astonished to get it; she realises belatedly that it’s not what it seems, but by now she is caught up in a significant anti-terror operation. Mat’s discovery that the missing man was flush with unexplained cash uncovers a connection with Cape Flats gangsters, but his boss is more interested in racking up charges to the client than providing the resources for a proper investigation. Meanwhile, ­Lemmer’s clandestine expedition has run into trouble on an isolated road, putting the rhinos and his own life in jeopardy.

The South Africa that Meyer writes about is a place of shocking inequality, which is one of the reasons for its notoriously high crime rate. Flint is an apparently hard-working man, putting his spare time into a part-time degree at the University of Johannesburg, but he has a secret and ultimately fatal passion for flashy cars. Meyer is interested in masculinity, its parodic excesses and hidden insecurities, which is one of the reasons Milla is such a touching creation.

At one point or another, all the main characters realise that they have been conned. Against expectation it is Lemmer, easily the most street-wise at first glance, who falls for a breath­takingly ingenious scam. Meyer quotes throughout the novel from a tracking manual designed for game hunters, but he’s hinting that his characters will have to become trackers of human beings if they are to stay alive.

This is the author’s most accomplished novel to date. Following the thrilling plot of his best­selling Thirteen Hours was always going to be a challenge but he’s visibly gained confidence, showing his technical skill and handling the different sections of the new book with effortless ease. It’s a mesmerising read, and a ­startling revelation at the very end suggests that we haven’t heard the last of these engaging characters.

Translated by K L Seegers

Hodder £19.99/ebook £23.27

 

Why rape victims must have flawless pasts to get justice

Sexual predators often choose their victims with care, selecting girls and women who are ‘vulnerable’ and likely to make less convincing witnesses

Independent, Wednesday 24 August 2011

The surprising thing about the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the alleged sexual assault of a hotel chambermaid isn’t that all charges have been dropped. It’s that he was arrested and charged in the first place, given how unlikely it was that he would be convicted. Even if DSK hadn’t been one of the world’s most powerful, well-known men, the chances of his being found guilty and going to prison were always low, as they are for most men who find themselves accused of rape or sexual assault.

“Rapists who end up being convicted in a court of law must regard themselves as exceptionally unlucky,” Professor Joanna Bourke of Birkbeck College argued in her magisterial book Rape: A History from 1860 to the Present. “Rape in this country [the US] is surprisingly easy to get away with,” a special report for CBS News concluded in 2009.

Nationwide figures for the US are hard to track down but an analysis of Department of Justice statistics by two of the country’s leading sexual assault experts in 2009 found that conviction rates hadn’t improved since the 1970s; their study suggested that only two per cent of rapes reported to police in the US ended in a defendant being sent to jail. Across a number of countries, a rising number of reported rapes has not led to a corresponding increase in convictions.

There is no mystery about this. The hunt for the ideal rape victim is never-ending but fruitless, for the simple reason that it requires unimpeachable conduct on the part of the victim in every area of her life, past and present. Women who have been drinking, who know their alleged attacker or who’ve ever told a lie to a public official, even in an unrelated matter, are not victims prosecutors want to put before juries. Bourke makes a similar point in her book: “Jurors, defence counsel and judges not only expect a much higher level of resistance than required by law, they also require a greater degree of consistency in rape testimonies than they require from victims of other violent crimes.”

Indeed what’s fascinating about the case, which comes down to the word of the former head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) against that of an immigrant from West Africa, is that in the beginning prosecutors clearly believed her story about a violent sexual assault. Strauss-Kahn’s semen on Nafissatou Diallo’s uniform and the carpet of his suite proved beyond doubt that a sexual encounter had taken place, while medical evidence and Diallo’s evident distress appeared to support her claim that it wasn’t consensual.

So confident was the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance, that he proceeded to charge Strauss-Kahn, turning him into one of the world’s most high-profile defendants. Even on Monday, when Vance asked a judge to dismiss the charges, he used an ambiguous formulation to explain his change of heart: “The nature and number of the complainant’s falsehoods leave us unable to credit her version of events beyond a reasonable doubt, whatever the truth may be about the encounter between the complainant and the defendant.” [My italics]

This is an absolutely classic outcome, signalling not the vindication of the defendant but the prosecution’s judgement that the accuser would not make a good witness. “Dismissal does not mean he is innocent, simply that the district attorney doesn’t believe the case can go to trial,” observed a French lawyer, Pierre Hourcade.

Vance’s own words suggest that his decision was based not on Diallo’s account of the alleged assault, which contains only minor discrepancies about her behaviour immediately after her encounter with DSK, but lies she told when she arrived from Guinea and claimed asylum in the US. Such behaviour is not uncommon when would-be immigrants are trying to improve their chances of being allowed to stay; Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Dutch MP, resigned from parliament five years ago after admitting that she lied on her application for asylum in the Netherlands. Ali later moved to the US where her views are treated with respect and she is regarded as a trenchant critic of radical Islam.

If Diallo’s persuasive account of a violent sexual assault is to be dismissed because she lied to get into the US, the implications for other immigrants are alarming. Are prosecutors really saying that anyone who has lied on an asylum application cannot be considered a credible witness in an unrelated matter, no matter how many years later and regardless of forensic evidence supporting their claims? This is surely setting the bar too high, as well as sending a message that some potential victims cannot expect the protection of the law. It’s well known that sexual predators often choose their victims with care, selecting girls and women who are “vulnerable” in some way – black, poor, working-class – and likely to make less convincing witnesses.

In the case of DSK, there is also a nagging question of double standards. Some of his more excitable supporters in France have already floated the idea that he could resume pursuit of his ambition to become the Socialist party’s candidate in the presidential election, as though he has emerged from this affair with a spotless reputation. But fairness demands that his past conduct should also be examined with equally rigorous standards, and the picture that’s emerged is far from edifying.

The French writer Tristane Banon has given a graphic account of what she claims was an attempt by Strauss-Kahn to rape her when she went to interview him in 2003; her mother, Anne Mansouret (a Socialist politician and colleague of Strauss-Kahn) claims that he “took me with the vulgarity of a soldier” during a consensual encounter three years earlier. It is possible that the former IMF boss is the victim of a truly dreadful coincidence, becoming the victim of slander by women who don’t know each other on two continents. But it is also possible he is a sexual predator who targets women who are reluctant to report him or unlikely to make a good impression on a jury. The cards have always been stacked in favour of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, but we still don’t know for certain that Nafissatou Diallo wasn’t the victim of a serious sexual assault.

Let’s Dare to Denounce Dangerous Trash

Fear of siding with the right against a corrosive celebrity culture forces liberal thinkers to tolerate questionable values

Independent on Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, went to India last week to meet leading political figures. A couple of days later, his wife, Sally, went to Elstree in Hertfordshire to meet the Irish novelty singing duo Jedward. Modern couples often elect to spend some time apart, especially in the summer holidays, and Mr and Mrs Bercow will certainly have plenty of anecdotes to compare when they reconvene in the Speaker’s grace-and-favour apartment at Westminster.

Mrs Bercow’s decision to enter the Celebrity Big Brother house has attracted a storm of criticism, but she has let it be known that her intention, besides raising money for an autism charity, is to “stick two fingers up to the establishment”. Given that pillars of the establishment are inexplicably absent from the CBB compound – something to do with the show moving downmarket to Channel 5, I expect – she may have to make do with squaring up to the former Atomic Kitten, Kerry Katona. Mrs Bercow’s husband, meanwhile, seemed relaxed about the prospect of mingling with members of the Indian establishment when he delivered a lecture on parliamentary reform at the University of Delhi.

The affair of the Speaker, his wife, and the “reality” TV show has exposed a whole series of confusions. Reactionary commentators (a category in which I naturally include one or two Labour figures) seem to imagine that Mr and Mrs Bercow are one and the same person, as though the old legal doctrine of coverture had not long been abolished. Mr Bercow is cordially loathed by many of his fellow Conservative MPs, a situation that has been exacerbated, but certainly wasn’t caused, by his wife’s extrovert personality; if he is prepared to put up with ribald remarks on her account when the House returns next month, that is entirely a matter for him.

At the same time, becoming a celebrity and giving the establishment a kicking are very different things, a distinction that seems lost on Mrs Bercow. To be fair, a lot of people are similarly confused about the difference between staging a political protest and looting the local branch of Comet; an easy way of telling the difference, for future reference, is to remember that not many people in Syria have expressed their opposition to the Assad regime by nicking a DVD player.

Having failed to become a Labour councillor, an ambition that strikes me as perfectly reasonable, Mrs Bercow not only agreed to appear on CBB but is using part of her fee to hire the publicist Max Clifford, who has revealed that she “wants to speak to Simon Cowell about potential TV projects”.

Such an ambition, though no doubt shared by many people, is more about self-promotion than any species of rebellion. Cowell is one of the principal gatekeepers of celebrity culture in the UK, perceived as the man who can breathe life into the cliché of “following your dream”. It’s a world where the potential rewards are almost comically out of proportion to talent; Kerry Katona, who is more famous for her disastrous relationships than for her singing career, is reportedly being paid £300,000 for her appearance on CBB, while Jedward are trousering a cool half million.

Mrs Bercow isn’t yet in that league – her fee is apparently £150,000 – but even these one-off payments pale into insignificance beside the salaries of those titans of celebrity culture, Premier League footballers. The Manchester United player and former England captain Rio Ferdinand gets around £6m a year, more than the entire annual health budget of Sierra Leone a couple of years ago; the London club Arsenal has just lost its captain, Cesc Fabregas, to Barcelona, despite increasing his wages in 2010 to an eye-watering £110,000 a week.

After the riots in English towns and cities earlier this month, the obscene rewards demanded by celebrities might reasonably have been expected to become a target of criticism. For the left, inequality is at the heart of explanations for the social conditions that have produced a generation of disaffected young people, and it’s been open season (again) on bankers, politicians and journalists. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has used apocalyptic language, talking about a “slow-motion moral collapse” and calling for condign punishments to make people behave better in future. Yet the warped values of celebrity culture, which reward narcissism above anything else, have largely escaped mention even as the latest batch of show-offs were sashaying into the CBB compound.

This may be because what criticism there is of celebrities tends to come from a suspect source, namely right-wing newspapers such as the Daily Mail; the paper’s journalists are interested in Katie Price and her boyfriends for all the wrong reasons, sneering because she’s a well-off “chav”. Left-of-centre commentators don’t do much better, fearing accusations of elitism if they don’t pay sufficient attention to Big Brother and all its off-shoots. The result is a slew of columns in the serious press making fun of “sleb” culture while becoming parasitic upon it. This is a shame, because footballers, Wags, supermodels and “reality” TV stars have a profound impact on how we live; they may not see themselves as role models, but ordinary people read about them in Hello! magazine and dream about being famous, owning fast cars and having glamorous partners.

Celebrity culture has lent conspicuous consumption (of relationships, as well as of objects) a spurious respectability that some opinion-formers are reluctant to criticise even when it runs counter to their own values. Mr Bercow is certainly no fan of CBB – “He was not very pleased but he knows what I am like”, his wife has said – but that doesn’t make him old-fashioned or puritanical. If we are going to have a serious discussion about values in the wake of the riots, we can’t avoid talking about the way celebrities behave. Selfishness has political consequences, no matter how much it’s dressed up as harmless entertainment.

 

A-level results that should shock us

Pupils at private schools, which educate only 6.5 per cent of children, achieved 30 per cent of A* grades at A-level this year

Independent, Friday 19 August 2011

They’re the kind of teenagers we can’t get enough of at this time of year: girls with long, glossy hair embracing each other on a lawn with mellow stone buildings in the background.

Tamara (left, in our imaginary picture) has just heard that she’s achieved two A* grades in her A-levels and will be going to Warwick, while Charlotte (middle) is off to study medicine at Cambridge. Boys are allowed to feature in this annual August beauty contest for high-achievers, especially if their families belong to an ethnic minority, but the preference is for brainy girls. And there definitely isn’t a hoodie or a baseball cap in sight.  

Yesterday’s A-level results produced the usual crop of celebratory photographs, along with a fanfare of announcements about how well candidates have done: it’s been another record year for pass rates, which have risen to 97.8 per cent, and boys have achieved as many top grades as girls. This year’s big story is about the scramble as aspiring students rush to get into university before next year’s hike in fees, leaving 185,000 candidates competing for 29,000 unfilled places on degree courses. One angry young woman didn’t improve her chances when she went on Twitter to describe the Ucas website, which crashed under the weight of disappointed candidates trying to find alternative courses, as “literally the worst thing in the world”. Someone please book that girl on to the next available flight to Somalia.

This year’s A-level results are impressive, and no doubt a lot of young adults have worked very hard. But there’s another story here, about class and the north-south divide, which doesn’t reflect anything like as well on the UK’s educational system. The annual ritual of publishing A-level results contains within it an absolutely shocking story about the impact on life chances of privilege and geography. Pupils at private schools, which educate only 6.5 per cent of children in the UK, achieved 30 per cent of A* grades at A-level this year. That’s the same proportion as last year, and yesterday’s results are not expected to show a fairer distribution in the effect of location on results. Last year pupils in the affluent south-east of England, which accounted for 19 per cent of A-level entries, achieved 23 per cent of A* grades; the north-east produced only three per cent of A*s from four per cent of entries.

How many Geordie lads and lasses, I wonder, were photographed leaping for joy in yesterday’s newspapers? Because of where they happen to live and their family background, kids from this area are less likely to sit A-levels or get the top grades that would get them into world-class universities. The standard offer at Cambridge is currently an A* and two As; research published earlier this year suggests that pupils from private schools are 55 times more likely to get a place at Oxbridge than state school pupils who receive free school meals (a recognised indicator of poverty). Geography turns out to have a significant effect on where candidates go to university, with urban universities such as the LSE, UCL and Liverpool taking a much higher proportion of students who were entitled to free school meals than Oxford or Cambridge.

One of yesterday’s most dramatic revelations was the confidence gap between inner-city state schools and private establishments, where savvy teachers know how to get free publicity. Henrietta Lightwood, head of admissions at Badminton girls’ school, sent out a press release promising introductions to three A-level students “who would make very good case studies – they speak extremely well and take a good picture”. She enthused that one girl had “single-handedly” delivered a foal while another had designed a solar-powered car, providing an insight into a world of achievement and privilege – fees for senior school boarders at Badminton will be £9,740- a-term from September – which could hardly be further from the experience of most teenagers in this country.

The problem with the annual August frenzy over exam results is it draws attention away from hundreds of thousands of young adults who have minimal qualifications, little hope and no jobs. While commentators focus on the plight of A-level students who haven’t quite achieved the grades they hoped for, huge numbers of their peers are unemployed; most didn’t join in last week’s riots – the north-east was largely spared, despite having the highest rate of youth unemployment in the country – but MPs have been warning for some time about the existence of a “lost generation”. According to analysis carried out by the GMB union, almost a third of young adults (31.6 per cent) are out of work in Middlesbrough; the figure is 29.4 per cent in Redcar and Cleveland, while almost a quarter of people aged 16 to 24 in Sunderland have no jobs.

During the past few days, CCTV pictures have provided a rogues’ gallery of young rioters, some of whom are heading for custodial sentences. Yesterday produced a contrasting set of images: high-achieving young people on their way to successful careers in law, medicine or the arts. Neither tells the whole truth about young people in this country, but they’re a reminder we live in a society where class and geography matter as much as ability.

Psychology offers better insights into riots than soundbite politics

Independent on Sunday, 14 August 2011

What do you get when you juxtapose violent street disturbances, excitable commentators, angry politicians and sundry ‘experts’ on youth culture? The answer, I’m afraid, is a lot of hot air: it’s perfectly possible to be horrified by last week’s riots without rushing headlong into a moral panic or claiming that they’ve fulfilled doomy predictions about the impact of Government spending cuts.

It’s vital to identify causes because the response of national politicians, local councils and schools will be shaped by assumptions about why the violence happened in the first place. But much of what’s been said in the last few days has been irrelevant for a very simple reason: mobs are not driven by reason. The looters who smashed shop windows and attempted to torch buildings were in the grip of intense emotions, visibly excited and revelling in the destruction around them.

When they appeared in court, some of the defendants appeared bewildered by their own behaviour; a 24-year-old woman turned herself into the police after a sleepless night wondering why she’d stolen a flat-screen TV. Crowds behave differently from individuals; assuming that looters ransacked shops because they were angry about bankers’ bonuses or MPs’ expenses is to credit them with conscious processes that don’t exist in the heat of the moment. It’s also to confuse proximate and ultimate causes, a mistake much in evidence in recent days. Continue reading

Our prisons are not just inhuman, they don’t work

Fewer people than usual will pay attention to a damning report on Wandsworth jail. But its findings would be shocking in any civilised society

Independent, Thursday 11 August 2011

It’s hardly the ideal moment to release a report about inhuman conditions at Britain’s biggest prison. Yesterday’s revelations about bullying and self-harm at Wandsworth jail in London, should prove disturbing reading for everyone who works in the criminal justice system, but they’ve been published at a moment when demands for ever harsher treatment for convicted criminals are in the air. Last month the Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, retreated from a flawed plan to cut the number of prisoners by reducing the length of sentences, while demands to bring back capital punishment have clogged up the Government’s new e-petitions website.

Against the background of this week’s events, it seems likely that even fewer people than usual will pay attention to a damning new report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons for England and Wales. It’s the result of an unannounced inspection at Wandsworth in February, and its findings would be shocking in any civilised society. In blunt language, the report concludes that the treatment of many offenders was “demeaning, unsafe and fell below what could be classed as decent”. Prisoners were bullied, denied reasonable standards of hygiene and kept in their cells with nothing to do for up to 22 hours a day. Continue reading

E-democracy or a forum for bullies?

The first e-petitions proposing changes to the law giving respectability to a stew of rage and envy

Independent on Sunday, 7 August 2011

What’s the difference between saying what you think and bullying?

Between listening to the will of the people and creating a society that acts on the basest human instincts? These questions, and ones about the influence of the internet on how people behave, became more pressing last week when the Government invited the public to post e-petitions on a new website. The result was an unthinking person’s dream: instant demands to bring back hanging, withdraw from the EU, allow householders to bludgeon burglars to death, repeal the Human Rights Act, and stop “mass” immigration.

It was an unwelcome snapshot of what life might be like if e-democracy were to replace our parliamentary system. At the same time, the novelist Amanda Craig was dealing with torrents of online abuse after she published an article criticising her old school, Bedales, and the Dragons’ Den entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne became the subject of a nasty online attempt at extortion. The threats came via email and the social networking site Twitter, where someone claiming to be from Belarus threatened to hurt Bannatyne’s daughter unless he was paid £35,000. Bannatyne responded furiously, offering a reward of £50,000 to anyone who could capture the blackmailer and break his arms.

Craig was conscious of the irony that her recollections of being bullied at school had produced an outbreak of online bullying, but it became so intolerable that she eventually pointed out that the threats were a criminal matter. Even more astonishingly, she received abuse on her blog after she published an account of an assault outside her north London home which almost resulted in her losing the sight in one eye. Below a graphic photograph of the injury, someone calling herself “Jackki” launched into barely literate abuse: “you can tell your a story teller nearly all you wrote were lies … yes you do have a sore eye but it was no where near as bad as you have made out”. Continue reading

Feminism Lite

Literary Review, August 2011

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

Ebury Press £11.99

Caitlin Moran sounds like a nice woman. She writes prolifically for The Times, where she reviews TV and chronicles the solipsistic world of celebrities in one of the paper’s most popular features. Now she has written a book that has been compared by her publisher to two historic events, the death of the suffragette Emily Davison under the hooves of the king’s horse in 1913 and feminists protesting against Miss World in 1970. The blurb continues: ‘NOW Caitlin Moran rewrites The Female Eunuch from a bar stool and demands to know why pants are getting smaller.’

Here are many of the anxieties of contemporary publishing exposed in a single sentence: the craving for a link with past success; the recourse to the breathless language of popular journalism; the reassurance that readers won’t be troubled with anything too weighty. It’s a pretty fair summary of what Moran provides, namely a volume that’s part autobiography and part reflections on feminism. On second thoughts, there is little time for reflection in a style that’s so hectic, contrarian and instantaneous. In that sense, mention of The Female Eunuch does Moran no favours because it compares a text that’s essentially smart journalism with a book that fizzed with intellectual energy. Continue reading