Mortification: Writer's Stories of their Public Sham by Robin Robertson (ed) - review by Peter Strauss

Peter Strauss

Their Finest Hours

Mortification: Writer's Stories of their Public Sham


Fourth Estate 304pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

WE SHOULD BE grateful to the diarist John Evelyn, who in 1645 first appropriated the term 'mortification' for the sense defined by the OED as 'the feeling of humiliation caused by a disappointment, a rebuff or slight, or an untoward accident; the sense of disappointment or vexation'. Equally, we should be grateful to the Manchester United supporters who mooned through the bookshop window at Robin Robertson during a reading of his poetry. That was the moment he conceived of this project, and in a beautifully written preface he tells of having been 'regularly entertained by writers' tales of past deflations and struck by their willingness to turn abasement into anecdote'. He goes on, 'These are the best stories I think: those told against the teller.' Robertson, a highly respected editor, known for the devotion his authors show him, has assembled marvellous array of writers, ranging from seasoned authors and critics such as Margaret Atwood and Karl Miller (who contribute multiple mortifications) to debut novelist and Booker Prize winner D B C Pierre.

At first glance this may sound an obvious idea, and following on logically from each other. The length of entries varies from a single page (160 words, to be

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

A Mirror - Westend

Follow Literary Review on Twitter