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Apple Tree Yard author: Lionel Shriver is talking out of her ‘shiny white behind’ on cultural appropriation

Pencils are being sharpened in the literary world as the row over cultural appropriation rumbles on. Last year Lionel Shriver found herself in the eye of a storm after she used her keynote speech at the Brisbane writers’ festival to complain that fear of ‘cultural appropriation’ was inhibiting both fiction writers who wish to write from the point of view of characters from other cultural backgrounds and members of minorities who wish to be seen as just a person.

Her comments came under criticism, with some suggesting the issue was her writing rather than her decision to portray a black character in her latest book. So, can she find solidarity with the literary sisterhood? Alas not. On this week’s Spectator Books Podcast, Louise Doughty — the Apple Tree Yard author — calls Shriver out over her comments. Doughty says Shriver was talking out of her ‘shiny white behind’:

‘I’m afraid I thought Lionel was talking out of her shiny white behind. I just think that she had completely the wrong end of the stick, and I think if you read the full text of her speech — which I have — you will see she was actually just really cheesed off she’d got a bad review in one of the American newspapers, I think it was the Washington Post.’

Doughty suggests that if Shriver’s writing had been up to scratch, her portrayal of the black character would not have been so negatively received:

‘All people are saying is ‘do your job well’ and if you’re doing your job well and responsibly you don’t get criticised for moving outside your own biographical details.’

Given that Doughty has provoked no controversy with her new book Black Water set in Indonesia, Mr S suspects she may be onto something.

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Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to or message @MrSteerpike

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