Looking on the bright side

July 3, 2008

I'd like to set a few matters straight in response to Duncan Wu's rather dismissive review of my book Sunshine (19 June). I could live with the jibes about the use of the first person and the "anecdotal manner", even from a review whose first three sentences manage to tell us four things about the reviewer's own preferences and ailments. Not bad. It took me a whole book to reveal as much.

I could even have lived with the inaccuracies, were it not that some of these were to support the review's main critique: that the book was "opportunistically ... slapped together for the occasion". It is not pedantry compelling me to reply, but a concern that these inaccuracies suggest the reviewer either didn't read it carefully or just didn't get it. Or, at best, simply "slapped" his review together in a fit of heliophobic pique induced by his hay fever. Perhaps streaming eyes turned the word "Marbella" into "Ibiza" on his page. For it was the former where I interviewed British expats living in the sun. I have been to Greece, and it was very nice; but I don't mention it in the book, so I'm not sure why Wu mentions it in the review.

"Much" of my research was not "drawn from the web", as Wu states, but from labouring in the British Library (when I could get a seat); even doing some archive work, or actually in the field, with questionnaires developed by market-research professionals.

Wu refers to "some uncertainty about what kind of book this is supposed to be". I couldn't agree more. In this brave new world, surely all channels, resources, methodologies might be considered legitimate for a populist cultural history of our relationship with a ubiquitous presence, which doesn't pretend to be anything else. I'm just glad sufficient readers don't suffer from hay fever.

Robert Mighall, Lloyd Northover, London W1.

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