Is the emperor really wearing clothes?

I believe I’ve found a Swedish Martin Amis. He seems to be called Bengt Ohlsson. He’s such a great author that he’s allowed to write ‘not so nice’ things about others in the name of culture and entertainment in a newspaper column. Unlike dear Mr Amis, Bengt didn’t suggest that children’s books are simple to write. He said (and here I get very nervous, because I saw what others didn’t see, and how can I be sure that what I saw is right, when it seems that most people whose opinions I normally value saw the exact opposite?) that nobody much likes the crime novels by Camilla Läckberg. He put her name in the same sentence as Auschwitz. I believe he meant (apparently) that her books are bad, but it’s fine to enjoy bad books. He does so himself, except obviously not the bad books by Camilla.

She got upset, which is so unreasonable because she makes a fortune on those books of hers, and she wrote a reply. That was proof that she’s unable to read (because he really didn’t say what she thought he said), and anyway when you are being bullied in the school playground it’s not the done thing to cry. Stiff upper lips are so much better.

I came across this spat on Annika Bryn’s blog, and immediately clicked on her link to see what witty column Bengt had written, seeing as Annika appreciated it. I read it over and over and at no time did it look like anything but an unpleasant comment. I swallowed my not inconsiderable pride and admitted that like Camilla herself, I had not grasped the ‘real’ meaning of the column either.

Now you see, I have heard of Camilla Läckberg, but have never felt the urge to read her books. But that’s not picking on her. I didn’t know Bengt Ohlsson, however, and admitted it. That was considered strange. He’s a great writer of literary works and he’s won prizes for them. I just feel that in that case his column, even if the topic was above my head and carried connotations unknown to me, should have been an example of good and interesting writing. And I don’t feel it was.

And he was rude. Had he managed the rudeness with flair and wit and intelligence I might have overlooked it. But he didn’t. And why not, if he’s the prize winning type?

10 responses to “Is the emperor really wearing clothes?

  1. One of the things I appreciate about Amis is that he’s not afraid to offend people, a welcome scorn of the PCedness few of us dare to counter publicly. Another thing I appreciate is that he often writes so well: many of the pieces in The War Against Cliché are pungent, powerful, and apt.

    There is far too much defensiveness on the part of children’s writers (ditto SF writers, for example) whenever a slight, perceived or real, is offered about their endeavours. While I certainly don’t believe it’s easy to write a good children’s book – I don’t think it’s easy to write a good book of any sort, full stop – I do understand what he’s saying about register. Perhaps he’s being ingenuous, or merely provocative, when he says he doesn’t write to an audience, but it’s a good idea to consider his point of view. There’s far too much emphasis on audience these days, which tends to create a commodification of literature (and a homogenisation) . Nevertheless, we all write to an audience, though I suspect in the best writers it’s an audience of one: they write the books they’d like to read (or have read as a child).

  2. There is a difference between not being afraid to offend and being rude for the sake of it. Amis chose to make his point by implying you had to have a brain injury to write a children’s book. There is nothing witty or particularly insightful about what he said, but he is applauded for saying it becuase he is lionised by a minority as one of the gods of literature. Does it ever occur to the people who fete this man that this kind of boorish behaviour from a book snob is exactly what puts so many people off reading anything deemed to be literary or reading at all? Being an arse might make you a media darling, but its not funny and its not clever. Your second last sentence make a good point – if that was Amis was trying to say, why couldn’t he say it in clearly without playground taunts? That way a civil discussion could have been had. Its what grown ups do.

  3. Hi Che, I’m more inclined to believe that outrageous behaviour, boorish or not, actually attracts readers.

  4. And I was just hoping to find what it was that others saw that was so good. But yes, BO obviously got far more hits with this than he would otherwise.

  5. I can’t bring myself even to be annoyed at Amis’s comment about children’s books. He could say anything as far as I’m concerned. Why should I care? He’s just some bloke.

    Besides, I think you need a sort of ‘brain injury’ to be a fiction writer of any kind. What we do, it’s not exactly… sane, is it? But people are willing to forgive our insanity because it’s pleasant to share it for a few hours.

  6. I forget where I saw it, but someone wondered if Amis writes a blog, and my immediate reaction was that he doesn’t have it in him. Which is why I felt Bengt Ohlsson had similarities with Amis. Might be ‘so great’, but can’t even write an interesting column for entertainment.

  7. OK – may I answer this blog by my good friend the Witch? 😉

    You have to know the cultural climate in Sweden to understand what BO wrote (he is, btw, not a brilliant writer, but all right). CL is very popular, what is exactly what she set out to be, and that is just fine. To some, she may be a “guilty pleasure” (although I don’t see why anyone should feel guilty about reading her) because it is conventional wisdom that she does not actually write that well.

    BO said there is nothing wrong with liking writers who don’t write well, he likes Ed McBain himself, another author not hailed by the literary high brows. So he first explained the situation, and then went on to defend Camilla from snotty people who criticize her. (Should that be “criticise”?) And then Camilla went bonkers with an outburst she later erased.

    I personally dislike all dividing anything at all into genres and acceptable/unaceptable fare. Bring it on! 😉

  8. I agree with Nick.

    (Are we still allowed to say that?)

  9. Yes.
    You can say almost anything on here.

  10. Well, I don’t really agree with Nick. Is storytelling insane? In that case, all art is insane. Why would we paint antelopes on the walls of caves, when there are real antelopes out there? Or sing, when we can talk? Or play trumpet and drums? Or dance when there are more efficient ways to move from A to B? And weave fabric? And…

    OK, being human is being insane! 😉


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