The esteemed literary critic, serial academic and one-time Marxist firebrand Terry Eagleton is, at 70, still producing books at an admirable rate.
Across the Pond (Norton, £9.99) is subtitled ‘An Englishman’s View of America’, and begins with a rigorous justification for the use of national stereotypes in writing about a country’s population. Eagleton then proceeds to make hay with these stereotypes in typically combative style and to consistently amusing effect. ‘America is a country where it’s difficult to do things by halves. Some people are surreally fat, while others are life-threateningly thin. Some think of nothing but sex, while others seem to regard sex as more reprehensible than genocide.’ He’s just as tough on the British, happily.
Americans are a gregarious crowd, endlessly clubbable. The country is stuffed with guilds, fraternities, sororities, learned societies and professional associations, along with conferences, seminars, conventions, summer institutes and other such anthropological rituals, all of which are taken immensely seriously. People in Britain attend such gatherings less frequently and eagerly, and do so ‘largely in order to drink’.
It’s all impossibly well argued, tendentious, provocative, sometimes slightly mad and occasionally quite wrong (just for the sake of it, I suspect). It’s also great fun, and the perfect present for a thin-skinned friend across the pond.