Wednesday, 11 March 2009

The Volcanic Verses

I’ve never met Julie Myerson. My partner has once – at a writing retreat – and one of my partner’s friends has a child at the school that the Myerson kids attend in south London. We knew of them enough, even at this rather cursory level, to spot pretty much immediately that the Guardian’s “Living with Teenagers” columns were written by her.

We enjoyed them. They chimed with many of our own experiences as parents of teenagers – but we were also uneasy with the idea that even at this rather distant proximity we were able to identify the author without the need for forensics. It seemed to us after a while that this was a poorly concealed betrayal of the intimacies of family life.

Now Julie Myerson finds herself in the maelstrom surrounding the publication of her book about her oldest boy. Whether she felt a confidence in the righteousness/rectitude of publication as a result of the relatively straightforward reaction to her anonymous column (it was, it transpires, the worst kept secret in literary circles) who can say? What is clear is that she has been slammed from almost every conceivable direction, the charges ranging from inexcusable maternal betrayal to the putting of profit ahead of familial loyalty.

Doubtless there are fresh stories about the risks of Skunk to be told - although there is no shortage of literature on the subject – but does offering your own boy as the poster child at such a sensitive point in his own development justify this action?

It is difficult to see how Julie Myerson, an accomplished wordsmith who once made the long list for the Booker Prize, can emerge from this with her reputation maintained or improved. She has now taken the step from relative literary fame to infamy and the runes do not make for happy reading.

One bold stroke, in my view, can best be countered by another. Given the blaze of pre-publicity, with which she has conspired, sales of her book are likely to be huge. If she wishes to begin to rebuild her credibility, she and her publishers could do an awful lot worse than signing over all income from the book to charities that deal with the scourge of addiction. And if I were her, I’d get back to fiction.

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