Some mild fallout from John Banville's recent review of Saturday. John Sutherland - he of Booker fame - has written a letter to the New York Review of Books regarding the review, and Banville has responded too deliciously not to reproduce here. Painstakingly retyped as a TEV public service:
To the Editors:
I don't agree with John Banville's judgment that "Saturday is a dismayingly bad book" [NYR, May 26], and I have to wonder if we are reading the same book (has the American edition, perhaps, been modified from that published in the UK in January by Jonathan Cape?).
Banville writes: "Perowne goes on to his squash game, which he manages to win despite the fright he has endured and the punch in the sternum that Baxter delivered." And later, "Having thrashed his squash opponent, Perowne returns to the arts of peace."
In the squash game, as published in the UK, at seventeen pages' length, Perowne loses.
Lord Northcliffe Professor Emeritus
Department of English
University College, London
John Banville replies:
Summoned, one shuffles guiltily into the Department of Trivia. I have no knowledge of, and care nothing for, the game of squash. Having read Ian McEwan's description of the match between Perowne and his American friend, all seventeen pages of it, I formed the notion that after a shaky start, and despite his experiences in the morning - traffic accident, encounter with thug, punch in the chest, etc. - Perowne managed to putplay his opponent who, however, deprived him of what he clearly considered a victory by demanding a let or somesuch - as I say, I am ignorant in these matters, and McEwan's account of the game made me no wiser, due no doubt to my sluggish comprehension rather than his powers of description. Perowne seemed to regard his opponent's manuever as not cheating, exactly, but certainly a less than generous broadening of a very fine line, although he did grudgingly consent to go on playing and lost, something which obviously meant more to him than it did to me. One concludes that there are no moral victories in sport, an activity in which, as in a letter to the editor, it is easy to score by a technicality.