11 JULY 1992, Page 25

More Loos and Barthes

Sir: I do not want a nitpicking correspon- dence to continue indefinitely but I cannot allow Christopher Bray to get away with the misquotations in his review of my novel The Mother-In-Law Joke (Letters, 27 June).

Referring to Kingsley Amis' rule that comic writing should never have a joke for its own sake, Bray says it is 'purposeless' of me to write that one of my characters 'read Loos in the loo and Barthes in the bath'. What I actually wrote, as he now knows perfectly well but does not have the grace to admit, was that 'there was Loos in the loo and Barthes in the bath' — a conse- quence of the fact that the character in question was the kind of person who bought books but did not read them. It's not the best gag of all time, and in fact it doesn't work at all if you pronounce Barthes correctly (that would have been a good jibe), but it was, nevertheless, a valid character point which by quoting out of context — and deliberately altering — Bray turns inside out for the sake of a cheap crack. And he still has the brass neck to accuse me of being 'a little shaky on what is actually in it'.

My New Statesman article about my first novel, Do It Again, which Bray has now

bothered to look up, only underlines my objection to his review. The main point of that piece was that, while I did not have a clue how to write a novel when I began, I found by the end it was writing itself and had no difficulty 'stretching the idea' or making 'a couple of set pieces and a minor- ly [?] amusing cast span out for 100,000 words' (Bray's fabrications). Rather the opposite, as the discarded 30,000 words on my floppy discs will testify.

Regarding David Nobbs, I still complete- ly fail to see how Bray can describe him as 'an influence' on me, or say I have taken characters 'straight out' of his work when I have never read him, and when he was too idle or circumspect to cite the supposed parallels. It also seems extremely strange, in a foul-mouthed age, to assign copyright of four-letter words to Martin Amis, and the privilege of describing any kind of encounter group to his father. I could go on — about the reviewer who describes a pas- sage as `tin-eared, stumblingly pedantic' and then produces a sentence such as 'printed in ink the carpet is pulled from under feet putatively being thought upon' — which I am still puzzling over, but that is enough nit-picking for now.

Far from being the kindest review I received, Bray's was probably the worst, and certainly the most careless. For exam- ples of decent reviews 1 refer him to the TLS, Time Out, Tatter, Company, the Inde- pendent on Sunday, the Observer and even vituperative Julie Burchill in the Sunday Times. I don't mind spiky reviews like Burchill's so long as they have something to say and don't take short cuts with what I wrote.

From the fact that Bray mentions his own first novel, from his embarrassing self- description (*liter and journalist'), and from the wearily condescending tone of his notice, I assume that he is very young and anxious to make a name for himself. I wrote lots of slipshod, smart-arse reviews for the same reason, so I have to forgive him now, and to find his half-apology half- acceptable.

Martyn Harris

16 Hewitt Road, London N8