Now what is this about? Patrick Ness has said that his book has been labelled a health hazard by the Daily Mail:
Specifically, the Mail has said that books for teenagers such as my The Knife of Never Letting Go are ‘so violent they need a health warning’, according to Dr Rona Tutt. That Dr Tutt – about whose name I decline to make a single joke – never actually says this is beside the point for the Mail, which typically loads the article with suggestive language to induce the moral outrage that one imagines its readers have come to expect, nay, demand. It even provides the usual out-of-context excerpt from my book to prove their point.
The link to the ‘health hazard’ piece doesn’t work but Ness does provide one to another revealing Mail piece:
When Amanda Craig, chair of judges for this year’s Booktrust Teenage Prize (which I won), wrote a sensible commentary in the Mail about the perceived violence in the books up for the prize, it was accompanied not by photos of the shortlist, but with a recreation of the time Craig’s house was robbed by hoodies. I’m not making this up.
It’s true – we get ten paras on Craig’s experience of youth crime before she finally gets round to discussing the novels she was appointed to judge.
Being a victim of crime is no fun at all – my house was hit several times when I was a kid, so I know – but Craig’s article serves to highlight the extent that conservatives personalise issues of crime, inflating anecdotal evidence to obscure the big picture. Ness is right to suggest that underlying this is a basic fear of the young, perhaps an envy of the young.
The British right is known for its frequent beserkers on crime, immigration, home ownership and of course political correctness, but it seems that the Mail indulges in its own form of PC by declaring certain books a ‘health hazard’, simply because they acknowledge the existence of knives, and of violence.
What makes this especially silly is that Patrick Ness doesn’t write that well about violence – The Knife of Never Letting Go is moving, tender and absorbing, but whenever there’s violent action Ness’s prose falls back into tame one-sentence paras, ending with a dash in a poor attempt to communicate tension.
And of course this is part of a Paul Dacre agenda to turn the clock back to some prelapsian version of British innocence that, naturally, never existed in the first place. Remember, we used to send kids down mines for ten hours a day.
The Mail doesn’t always get it wrong. There are plenty of scum teenagers on the streets. But they’re not scum teenagers because they read The Knife of Never Letting Go. They think the whole idea of reading and study is laughable and they’ll attack kids who carry books around.
Naturally a condemnation from the philistine is better than praise from the cognoscenti. Yet if more people read from an early age – and it could be anything, from Enid Blyton to the Marquis de Sade – the streets would only get safer.
(Thanks to Hak Mao for the image)