Dec 18 2005

Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single quotation on the cover of a book is not a reliable guide to its contents.

Nevertheless, when the quotation clearly comes from a review, and the review comes from a reasonably reputable newspaper, for such I imagine the Independent to be, some credence could be allowed. Thus beguiled, and influenced in no small measure by my own visit in 1993, I bought The Parthenon by Mary Beard.

The quotation, by Michael Bywater, who is not, as near as a brief Google will reveal, related to Beard, reads, “Witty and humane … brings impeccable scholarship to a wider audience.”

Thus on page 7,

This Parthenon [in Nashville, Tennessee] reached a wider international audience through Robert Altman’s movie Nashville, his epic satire on the tawdriness of the American dream, showbiz and politics. The final scenes of the film are set among its columns draped with the American flag, where a country-and-western benefit concert is being staged for a no-hope candidate in a presidential election; a characteristically American occasion culminating in a characteristically American murder, as the lead singer is gunned down on the Parthenon’s portico by an apparently motiveless assassin. Athenian classicism meets the Stars and Stripes.

If this is what passes for witty, humane and impeccable at Cambridge, things have reached a low ebb indeed. This is the kind of judgement that, followed by a statement that the sky is black at night, would prompt me to go outside and look. It instantly renders the rest of the book suspect.

The knee-jerk anti-Americanism on p. 7 is the worst passage in the forty-odd pages of the book I have read so far, but the sneering tone continues, unleavened by scholarly or stylistic virtues. I suspect I won’t be reading much more.

Profile Books, which threatens to make this book the first in a series, should be apologizing to the trees it sacrificed.

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