In the midst of literary hackery and the network of debts and allegiances that is literary London, one repository of fearless literary criticism stands out - the literary review page of "Private Eye". In this book, Francis Wheen has assembled, in thematic order, a collection of criticism of books.
His review has got to be ‘in’ by mid-day tomorrow ... at about 9 pm his mind will grow relatively clear, and until the small hours he will sit ... skipping expertly through one book after another and laying each one down with the comment, ‘God, what tripe!’ ... Then suddenly he will snap into it. All the stale old phrases—‘a book that no one should miss’, ‘something memorable on every page’—jump into their places like iron filings obeying the magnet.
Thus did George Orwell, writing forty years ago in Confessions of a Book Reviewer, describe the labours of a typical literary hack. Precious little has changed over the intervening decades; the servility of the satirical magazine Private Eye. Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion assembles, in thematic order, the best of these columns to present an astringent, rude and funny survey of publishers and the published.