Sunday, November 01, 2009

It may be a coincidence but the Evening Standard doesn't seem to have published anything by Nirpal Dhaliwal since it went free. One of the last things, so far, he wrote for them is this column, and I can't tell if he's joking or sincere...

Evening Standard: Honesty puts my ex-wife in a league of her own
-August 5, 2009

MY ex-wife, Liz Jones, has a new book out this week, The Exmoor Files: How I Lost a Husband and Found Rural Bliss. In it she gives her version of our marital break-up two years ago, which she documented in her newspaper columns, and her experience of moving to the country afterwards.

It was excruciating to have my dirty linen aired like that but I'd been an appallingly unfaithful husband and to some extent felt it was her prerogative to badmouth me in public. Like the mistakes I made in my marriage, it was an experience I never want to repeat.

I now look back on Liz's work and am awed by the phenomenon she created. She turned the genre of confessional journalism almost into an art form and made a name for herself in the process. Detailing the intimacies of her private and emotional life with brutal frankness, her columns had a pace, turn of phrase and expectancy that any novelist would be proud of.

Uncomfortable as it was to be her subject, I could never fault the quality of her writing.

Others disagree. Last Sunday, one magazine published a disdainful interview describing her as looking "a bit mad", implying that her writing stemmed from a mental disorder.

When we were married, I sometimes called Liz mad too. I now acknowledge that she is, in fact, a genius, a brilliantly effective writer who can provoke 130,000 comments to a newspaper with a single article about her anorexic relationship with food.

Some dismiss her work because much of it focuses on herself, but the same is true of many journalists, diarists, even novelists. And how many other writers have tapped the public nerve so powerfully and consistently? Though her columns concentrated on our marriage, they recorded a unique moment in the history of women as they finally flood through the cracks in glass ceilings in unprecedented numbers. Liz articulated the anxieties of a successful woman who out-earned her husband and sacrificed motherhood for her career yet still felt pressured to conform to idealised notions of beauty and achieve the mythical state of "having it all". Her success reflects the increasing feminisation of our culture, in which women's interests in relationships and domestic life compete equally for attention with male concerns.

On topics such as multiculturalism, female empowerment and the neuroses of consumer society, other columnists pontificate loftily without insight. Liz, however, took readers on a unique journey through the reality of these issues via the nitty-gritty of her mixed-race marriage to a less accomplished younger man me. Her columns were compulsive reading.

Other writers have boosted their careers by penning what poses as the highly confessional while omitting detail to spare themselves ridicule, such as the fact that a husband's affair was actually with another man, or publicising the trauma of giving birth to a sickly child without admitting that booze and fags were enjoyed throughout the pregnancy.

It is Liz's merciless honesty that put her in a league of her own and I readily acknowledge it, even when the honesty hurt me. Like that other great columnist, Julie Burchill, she provokes adoration and hatred for daring to unveil the darker side of the female psyche. Julie confessed she felt nothing for her first child, while Liz admitted that she feels superior to others simply for being thinner.

Like her readers, Liz's critics are overwhelmingly women. But however strange they think she is, they can't deny that she has pioneered new limits for journalism and has the sort of hold on the public imagination particularly of women that most writers can only dream of.

Of course, Nirpal does not mention that he lacks Liz's 'merciless honesty', that he not only called her 'mad' but also 'fatty' and that he still calls her for money.

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