John Carey 1 John CareyBallroom of The Bull
Sunday 9 November
BR rating ****

By Nick Pitt

The most unexpected aspect of John Carey’s professorial performance was the strength of his views on the monarchy and the inequalities of Oxbridge entrance. He railed against the former as “something profoundly irrational at the centre of public life,” and described the fact that even today 50% of Oxford entrants come from private schools as “monstrous”.

No fear of a knighthood, then. And no danger that 60 years spent in Oxford academia have entirely softened Carey’s radical inclinations. The perfect proportions of the ballroom upstairs in The Bull seemed a fitting showcase for Carey’s classical precision of thought and expression as he fielded questions from Howard Davies, another professor and former chair of the judges for the Mann Booker Prize, as well as some gentle lobs from the 100-strong audience.

Carey has read more books than any of us and with greater insight. We should therefore take note of his enthusiasms and recommendations. So do not be sniffy about Biggles; return or go to Dickens (especially Great Expectations and Little Dorrit) and George Eliot; expect the work of Kazuo Ishiguro to endure; always appreciate the heroic life of George Orwell and the simple clarity of his prose.