Of all the bile to have been spewed over the Julie Myerson story—now reduced to a sub-Jungian archetype of how a blonde sorceress/novelist cast out her wayward son and conjured up book-sales by writing about it—the most pompous gob came from Libby Purves in Monday’s Times. “I would rather not have added to the verbiage,” she began. Now there’s a line for every columnist’s tombstone.
The Times ploughs on today (presumably uninterested in whether the story sells) with an interview with Myerson written by Janice Turner. Turner concedes that she is one of many columnists who have written about their children, though she now feels “revulsion” for the way Myerson has exposed her young son to the “media firestorm”—a firestorm into which Turner, with splendid lack of self-awareness, tosses her own cheap log.
Where is this line that those taking the moral high-ground have drawn, that so clearly distinguishes their confessional activities from those that Myerson pursues in her book? Libby Purves posthumously published her son’s writing in a book called The Silence at the Song’s End, after he committed suicide. She considers her tribute to her son to have been operating on an entirely distinct moral plane to Myerson’s, who also publishes her teenage son’s poetry in The Lost Child.
One detects, in both both Purves and Myerson, a deep need to reclaim children. This is what Freud called “abandoned object cathexis”: the urge to internalise what has been lost. Purves was naturally unable to gain her son’s consent to publish his writing. Myerson did get initial consent from her son, Jake, who then (hardly an unfamiliar reaction, this) changed his mind when approached by a newspaper reporter. Where’s the clear blue water between these cases? Purves, in a psychologically very peculiar statement, states that Myerson had “no right to claim ownership” over her son’s story. Come again? Purves clearly feels the contrast between her noble tribute to the dead with Myerson’s “monstrous” betrayal of the living, but—on the subject of ownership and permission—this is holier-than-thou drivel.
Tim Lott, a fine and usually honest writer, is another to have cast himself on the moral high ground and Myerson on the low. “Every time I have ever written…