She-monster or credible character? Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne in "Gone Girl" (image: 20th Century Fox)
You cannot write clearly without generalisations. Thus, after bowing my head in due awe and deference to the work of many talented colleagues, I still feel able to say that right-wing political journalism is clear and popular while too much of what passes for left-wing writing is obsessive, joyless and as comprehensible to today's general readers as church Latin was to medieval peasants.
The power of right-wing writing is reflected in the extraordinary gains for nationalist parties across Europe. With the partial exception of Greece, a crisis in capitalism, brought about by the most overpaid and over-regarded men on the planet, has not produced a left-wing populist backlash, but its exact opposite. Whether in the end the Right will benefit is open to doubt: nothing has damaged the conservative cause in the minds of intelligent people as much as its raucous denial of man-made climate change, for instance, and the Right will find it takes immigrants generations to reconcile themselves to the parties which abused them.
But maybe I am just saying that to keep my spirits up. For now, right-wing populism is in the ascendant while too many on the Left struggle to throw off the stifling thought and style of postmodern academia. The furore about Gone Girl makes my point. The thriller (and if you have not seen the film or read the book you should stop reading now) was variously condemned in the liberal press for "recycling the most egregious myths about gender-based violence", and portraying women as "little sexual monsters" with the power "to sexually, emotionally manipulate men". It was "disgusting" and "unequivocally misogynistic".
The procedure used on Gone Girl is familiar. The academic or critic inspects popular culture. She (in this instance) knows that unquestioned assumptions and prejudices infest the work. The author may not have known of their existence. The clueless viewer may not be able to see them, but she can unmask and denounce with fervent righteousness.
Gone Girl, the critics held, is a deserving target because its villain is the monstrous Amy Dunne. As the story unfolds, you learn that she has spent months planting clues which will mean that when she disappears the police will conclude that her unfaithful, useless husband murdered her. Not only does she try to frame her husband, she falsely accuses two other men of rape. She lets the first off after weeks of torment. She murders the second, and uses the fake rape claim to plead justifiable homicide. As it is hard to secure rape convictions, and defence lawyers seek to discredit rapists' victims, the feminist case for the prosecution can sound ferocious. Applaud Gone Girl and you are applauding rapists; making it easier for them to get away with their crimes, and harder for women to convince juries that they aren't scheming bitches in the Amy Dunne mould.
This trick, pulled in Gone Girl, is pulled so often you need to close your ears to the din of accusation and indignation to see the sleight of hand. Just because literary juries never award prizes to crime and thriller writers does not necessarily mean that their authors are fools or bigots who reinforce stereotypes until the wised-up critic reveals their true, bestial purpose.