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The Rooney effect is ruining fiction

The BBC adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People

All modern fiction by female writers is the same, and I blame Sally Rooney, says Susannah Goldsbrough in the Telegraph. Since the 30-year-old published the staggeringly successful Normal People and Conversations with Friends, there’s been a spate of Rooney knock-offs. We’ve had Megan Nolan’s Acts of Desperation, Daisy Lafarge’s Paul, Jo Hamya’s Three Rooms and Anna Glendenning’s An Experiment in Leisure – “and that’s just this year’s crop”. They’re all the same: “The language is spare and unadorned; the tone dry and arch, never more than a semi-colon away from irony.” Worse still are the identical female leads – all smart, skinny, skittish socialists.

Maybe it’s because “Rooneyism” sells. Or maybe it’s because identity politics has made debut novelists scared to write about anything outside their lived experience. Either way, we’re worse off for it. “The more debut novels you read about clever, thin, self-doubting Marxists who have good sex with bad people, the more you wonder: where have all the other stories gone? If you see one, let me know.”

Exterminate this woke Doctor

The first woman to play the Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, will quit after her third season. No wonder, says Amanda Platell in the Daily Mail. Whittaker is a fine actress, but the writers have turned Doctor Who woke. Instead of exploring the universe, Whittaker has been “investigating injustices surrounding the partition of India, meeting civil-rights icon Rosa Parks and even witnessing apparent digs at Brexit”.

The madness doesn’t stop there, says Charles Moore in the Telegraph. These days the Doctor doesn’t have “assistants” but “companions” – a less demeaning term. The assistants challenged the Doctor and asked sparky questions, but the companions just listen politely as she witters on about war, climate change, poverty and racial injustice. And witter on she does. Although the Doctor is armed with a sonic screwdriver, “she actually spends most of her time staying still and talking”. Maybe it’s because there aren’t any proper baddies for her to fight. “It is a long time since a really good, frightening alien popped up.”

It’s a shame. For the true Whovian, “the interest of the Doctor lies in his weirdness”, not his worthiness. After all, he/she is a Time Lord who craves action, makes mistakes and isn’t very nice. “The title name “Who” implies a question: the best Doctor is one who remains an unanswerable riddle.”

We’ve forgotten how to forgive 

Whatever happened to forgiveness, says Malcolm Gladwell in his newsletter, Oh MG. Cancel culture has made it impossible to denounce someone’s actions without casting them out for eternity. Forgiveness no longer seems to be an option. We should be wary. All this echoes the grim days of 1950s McCarthyism and cases such as that of Helen Levitt, a Stalinist who was blacklisted by Hollywood. Her views were deplorable, but her punishment was unrelenting – she was permanently snubbed by society, her friends and family. “I was lonely, lonely, lonely,” said Levitt of her blacklisting. “It was so sad. We were so lonely.” Humans are cavalier about exclusionary punishments, but cancellations hurt. “I do not understand why any of us would wish that kind of suffering on anyone else.”