Saturday 20 July 2013

On double-barrelled names

The name of Kia Abdullah appeared in my January blog Gertrude Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.. It rang a faint bell so I looked her up. She is the author of two novels: Life, Love and Assimilation (2006) and Child's Play (2009), and we'll come to the second of these shortly. You may remember that she was at the centre of ferocious criticism in July 2011 for tweeting her  callous reaction to the news that three young British students (Max Boomgaarden-Cook, 20, Bruno Melling-Firth and Conrad Quashie, both 19) had been killed in a coach crash in Thailand. This is what she tweeted:

               'Is it really awful that I don't feel any sympathy for anyone killed on a gap year?' 

Gap years didn't exist in my day (and I realise that using the phrase 'in my day' disqualifies its user from venting any opinion on the subject). But my understanding is that a gap year combines travel to places which I'd never heard about as a teenager with some kind of CV-boosting altruistic works, such as teaching English or helping out in a hospice or digging culverts. So I'm not sure what prompted Abdullah's scorn. Perhaps the fact that she, coming from a modest background, did not enjoy what she regards as a middle-class extravagance?

Then she added: 

                'I actually smiled when I saw that they had double-barrelled surnames. Sociopath?' 

Mneh. Not a sociopath. Just a thoughtless, unreflecting airhead. She was widely condemned by fellow tweeters and by the media and I imagine she still wakes up in a cold sweat from time to time at the thought of what she did, and how the family and friends of those unfortunate young men must have felt. 

Her take on the matter was not only offensive to most people but also (for a novelist, who should have an understanding of such things) dispiritingly ignorant - she failed entirely to take into account that double-barrelled names are as much a product of feminism and the parental desire to preserve both family surnames within a partnership or marriage as they are about top-hatted toffs forging dynastic alliances. Society has changed, or at least the manner of naming children. One in 50 Britons now has a hyphenated name, compared with one in 50,000 in 1901. I can't claim any statistical support for my view - no doubt as shallow and thoughtless as Abdullah's, if less hurtful - that convicted thugs and felons are these days as likely to have double-barrelled names as double-barrelled shotguns. 

The three young men who died in Thailand were, as it happens (and not that it makes the slightest difference to anyone apart from the Abdullahs of this world) all state-educated. Their ill-fated trip to Thailand was their first time abroad. 

It's tempting to make assumptions about Kia Abdullah's background, education and character on the strength of her name. I shan't, because I'm not like her. But I am going to make assumptions about her on the strength of her writing. Here's the blurb (presumably penned by the author) from her second published novel :

     25-year-old Allegra Ashe has an adoring boyfriend, a loving family and thriving career, 

     but a disturbing job offer from an alluring stranger threatens to shatter her seemingly 
     perfect life. She becomes entangled with Vokoban, a classified government unit that 
     tests the limits of the law in trying to catch society's worst offenders: paedophiles. 
     Allegra's life spirals out of control and we find ourselves voyeurs in a perverse world of 
     lust, danger, deceit and revenge. A tale of twisted sexuality and tortured morality, 
     Child's Play places a telescope into the darkest recesses of the human mind and invites     
     the reader to take a look.

Abdullah's reverse invocation of Vladimir Nabokov signals the sullen limit of her wit and invention,  She's a really lousy writer. If the prospect of a telescope placed into 'the darkest recesses of the human mind' is appealing, or even feasible, you may be tempted to splash out on her meretricious dribble, but you can save your money and stoke your schadenfreude by going online to enjoy the comments posted by her disgruntled readers on Amazon. They're eloquent enough to damage far solider talents than hers, although I suspect she's still twittering away contentedly about her life, her work, and whatever passes for her thoughts. She probably has another novel on the go.

But enough already. Am I being mean-spirited? 

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