Posted by: jowanderer | January 11, 2008

AA Gill

The Shadow in the North (Sunday, BBC1) was a follow-up adaptation of Philip Pullman’s pastiche of John Buchan/Arthur Conan Doyle mysteries. Even by the worn-out standards of this genre, it was a stupid story that had all the tension of a sagging tennis racket. A workmanlike cast kicked the deflated plot towards the closing credits with a growing sense of disbelief and disaffection. Not even Billie Piper’s pulchritude could lift it.

A year is a long time to spend with a camera crew. JK Rowling managed it and finished her opus at the same time. She also managed not to tell them anything that we couldn’t have gleaned from the dust jackets of her books or the internet. JK Rowling – A Year in the Life(Sunday, ITV1) was produced and directed by the very capable James Runcie, a nice man who makes solid-oak television programmes of the sort that viewers say: “Wonderful workmanship, last you a lifetime.” But in this instance he has employed an utter duffer to do the interviewing – he’s gone and done it himself. He is a properly ghastly interrogator, too nice and obsequious. The questions came straight from a fanzine quick quiz: what’s your favourite indulgence? If you could be any one of the Spice Girls, which would it be? Though it was short on information, it turned out to be revealing in another way.

Rowling is such an untypical author – or, rather, we are so used to authors being a typical way: armoured with a brittle carapace of intellect, conspicuously well read and abstract. She is none of these: she is without the remotest literary pretension. And whether or not you think her a great or a bad writer, she is undeniably an exceptional one, and seems to prove that writing well or indifferently comes not from intellect or practice or technical aptness or even intelligence, but from how well you manage to access and metamorphose the experience of your life. It was a lesson Mr Runcie might draw succour from.

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