There are few professions quite as innately snobbish as publishing. In the world of books, two areas of potential snootiness, the commercial and the literary, combine to create a feudal hierarchy of brutal divisiveness.
The system flourishes from generation to generation because those absorbed into the aristocracy quickly and effortlessly assume the attitudes of an insider. They learn the rules.
For this reason above all, Hilary Mantel deserves a special commendation. In a recent interview, Mantel was coolly scathing about those who instantly became fervent admirers of her work on the night last year when her novel Wolf Hall won the Booker Prize.
“You would think I would be too old to be shocked by the hypocrisy of the world, but the number of people who oozed up to me was incredible, people who I know hate my work and hate me, and haven’t been reluctant to say so in print or on air. And then I think, ‘You fat fool! Do you think I don’t know?’ And then you realise what a gigantic game we are all playing.”
Another aspect of the gigantic game is the way fame feeds on itself. A year ago, Mantel’s interesting ideas about the good sense of teenagers having babies – “Having sex and babies is what young women are about” – would have caused no particular interest. Now that she is a member of the Fame Club, her remarks have made scandalised headlines.
It is refreshing to hear the ideas of someone who has thought and written long enough for herself to treat received opinion and the ingratiating fat fools of the literary world with the same cheerful contempt.