This article is taken from the December/January 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.
Frankie’s father is Hong Kong Chinese. His mother was born in Lagos. Educated at an East London comprehensive of which the Ofsted inspectors annually despaired, Frankie passed into Balliol College, Oxford, took a first class degree in Greats and then secured a very well paid job in the City of London.
Five years later, after leaving a hedge fund, he wrote — in three months —
a novel about his experiences entitled The Up Escalator, which was long listed for the Booker Prize and optioned by a television company. It was then that
the trouble started.
Item one of what turned out to be an extensive charge sheet was a review which Frankie was discovered to have written for a weekly magazine about the debut novel by a young Ghanaian writer who had been awarded an Arts Council bursary.
It was useless for Frankie to point out that almost exactly the same words had been used by Orwell
Rounding off his 500 word dissection of some of the syntactical inadequacies
on display, Frankie suggested that their perpetrator could profitably use some of the Arts Council’s largesse in paying for English lessons or “at the very least hiring a decent editor”.
All this might just have been chalked up to youthful over exuberance. But
worse was to come. Item two was the introduction to a reissue of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories commissioned by a highly distinguished university press, in which Frankie was found to have stated that the imperialism of the later nineteenth century, “though sentimental, ignorant and racist, was not entirely despicable”.
It was useless for Frankie to point out that almost exactly the same words had been used by George Orwell in his obituary of Kipling. The resulting row got as far as the op ed column of the Observer, and as Frankie declined to alter what he had written, the edition was cancelled.
Meanwhile, in the wake of an online petition, his invitation to address a conference at the University of Uttoxeter on the subject of “Race, Empire and Representation” was hastily withdrawn. Just now, on the other hand, Frankie is having trouble with his publishers, messrs Rosencrantz & Guildenstern.
“To be perfectly honest,” his editor observed, having flicked through the outline of Frankie’s second novel about some middle class children in Surbiton whose father loses his job, “this wasn’t quite what we had in mind.”
What Rosencrantz & Guildenstern did have in mind, it transpired, was something “a bit more ethnic”. It is all very odd.
In his early thirties now, and rather mystified by the curiously proscriptive world in which he has fetched up, Frankie is thinking of going back to the City, where, as he points out, the money is ten times as good and, within certain clearly defined limitations, you can say what you like.
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