When your picture appears on the cover of both the London Review of Books and the New York Times Review of Books within a fortnight of each other, and burly customs officials hustle for your autograph on arrival at Kennedy airport, then you might be forgiven for ‘taking a policy decision’ to enjoy all the fun while it lasts.
If fifth columnists enquire whether an enterprising agent might not have primed those men in advance to massage your budding ego, then you might reply, if you were the freshly feted ‘major novelist’ by the name of Salman Rushdie, that ‘without doubt that was the strangest thing to have happened and seems to me quite unbelievable.’ And go on to explain, ‘that is less a mark of the quality of the book as of the power of the New York Times. Everybody in America seems to see the Sunday New York Times, and very large numbers of them read the Book Review section, and so if you happen to be on the first page of it ... There is no comparable way of breaking through into large scale public consciousness in this country.’
In case this fulsome tribute to the prestige of the NYT led you to assume qualities of demure modesty in our newly hailed author, then he would soon put you right by a sharp assessment of his book and a capsule manifesto of his literary aspirations: ‘Just to be overweeningly