The other day I heard someone in an extremely influential literary job describe the writing of Alexander McCall Smith, in passing and almost subvocally, as 'Shit.'
Fascinating, I thought, that someone for whom 'shit' is an acceptable judgement of anything should be so sure of her own literary judgement and so dismissive of someone almost preternaturally articulate, someone who has taken to Twitter like a duck to the proverbial and has elevated the Tweet to a new poetic form with an emphasis on the the way that meaning can be clarified and nuance introduced by means of punctuation. Not just fascinating, but remarkable, that such a judgement should have been formed and expressed. How nice to be so sure of one's place in the world.
Of course, I'm partisan: I love Alexander McCall Smith to death, and I think it's partly because I read his books for what they are, rather than judging them against the output of some more or less pretentious heavyweight or other of the contemporary literary world, or feeling that I must demonstrate how down I am with Great Literature by trashing someone who has never pretended to be writing it but who is nonetheless, in his own way, a great writer.
And if you doubt me, read this paragraph from The Forgotten Affairs of Youth. If anyone has ever seen this problem put this clearly and inescapably before then I would very much like to know where, and by whom.
'Yet you say that we need religious belief?'
Isabel did not answer immediately. The problem for her was the divisiveness of religion; its magical thinking; its frequent sheer nastiness. Yet all of that existed side by side with exactly that spirituality that she felt we could not do without; that feeling of awe, of immanence, which she knew was very real, and which enriched and sustained our lives so vitally.