NPR logo

'Glover's Mistake': Misadventures Of A Cynical Critic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'Glover's Mistake': Misadventures Of A Cynical Critic


'Glover's Mistake': Misadventures Of A Cynical Critic

'Glover's Mistake': Misadventures Of A Cynical Critic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Those who can't, teach. Those who really can't become critics. David Pinner is both — and more. He's balding and cynical. He expresses his cynicism online, with the aptly-named Damp Review. His attempt to wedge himself into the romance developing between his young, bartending roommate and his older, attractive former college instructor is at the center of Nick Laird's new novel set in the high-ticket London art world. Host Scott Simon talks with novelist Nick Laird about Glover's Mistake.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Those who can't, teach. Those who really can't, become critics. David Pinner's both, and more. He's balding and cynical, and expresses his cynicism online with the aptly named "Damp Review."

One of his old teachers, a beautiful and accomplished American artist named Ruth Marks, comes back into his life dripping success, money and Chanel. She scarcely remembers him, but her reappearance rekindles old feelings and arouses new ones between David, Ruth and David's flatmate, a young James Glover who seems everything that David is not: hip, slim, practical and decisive.

The threesome is at the center of Nick Laird's new novel that's set in the high-ticket London art world. The novel is called "Glover's Mistake." Nick Laird joins us from our studios in New York.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. NICK LAIRD (Author, "Glover's Mistake"): Thanks for asking me.

SIMON: David Pinner, the man who can't so he teaches...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: ...that really can't so he becomes a critic, is - not a very well-read critic, as a matter of fact - is at the narrative center. At one point, a character asks him, don't you find writing all those bad reviews to be exhausting?

Mr. LAIRD: Well, you know, I reviewed for years myself and then I still do occasionally, and you can kind of get into the habit of destroying things. It's much more interesting and much more difficult to try and show why good things are good. You know, there's a thrill to kind of trying to destroy something, and David feels it.

SIMON: Is that to create some thrill in his life?

Mr. LAIRD: Yeah, maybe. I mean, he's very bored. One of the things I was trying to do in that, when I was writing the novel, is to look at the way, say, the Internet has allowed people with certain tendencies to, you know, exacerbate those tendencies. And so David, you know, he's a kind of obsessive guy and the Internet allows him to kind of indulge that in some way. So he becomes a bit of cyber-stalking and that kind of stuff. And you know, he's allowed to disguise himself where he can say whatever he wants behind a mask, and that's not good for someone like David. You know, it hasn't helped him become a good person.

SIMON: Let me get back to David Pinner and his - and his roommate, James Glover. What makes the two of them roommates? I mean, disconnected people who don't know each other well becoming roommates is a common thing in Central London, as it is in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Mr. LAIRD: Mm-hmm.

SIMON: But they seem so different.

Mr. LAIRD: But actually, you know, they did get on. They're both kind of funny. They make each other laugh, and that's half the battle. I think if you make someone laugh and they make you laugh, then you're halfway to friendship, really.

SIMON: At the heart of this novel is also what I'll refer to as a Demi and Ashton romance.

Mr. LAIRD: Yeah, okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: With - instead of May-September, September-May. Let's put it that way.

Mr. LAIRD: Sure.

SIMON: That's tricky, isn't it? As soon as things begin to go bad, they - each of them says something that seems to suggest that's the reason.

Mr. LAIRD: Well, I was kind of - you know, whenever you come - I wanted to -lots of things I was thinking about when I decided to write about this. And it was a thing I wanted to like, tell a kind of story of "Othello" from Iago's point of view. That was part of the thing. But the other thing was, I wanted to try and write a kind of almost classic setup, but that could only be written nowadays. So that's where like, the Internet stuff comes in and that stuff.

And the other thing was that it's only really in recent times that women have had enough financial independence, so there's stuff about feminism in the book. But the feminist revolution, in a way, has meant that these relationships are possible now. I think they talk about the cougar, in New York City anyway, but an older woman who, you know, goes out with younger men.

SIMON: I don't think it's just New York, yes.

Mr. LAIRD: Okay.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. LAIRD: It's nationwide.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: I think it's - probably the phrase has gone to London. And dare I say it, Manchester?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LAIRD: Quite possibly. So I wanted to look at that kind of dynamic.

SIMON: Hmm. I don't want to in any way telegraph the ending, except I was surprised by it. But I'll be bold enough to share what to me was just one of the most devastating moments in the book. And it's when Ruth Marks, the successful artist, who had been David's teacher at one point...

Mr. LAIRD: Yes.

SIMON: a small arts school in London, she's having a problem with her daughter. And David reminds her of the time that he had asked her for advice, and she clearly has no memory.

Mr. LAIRD: He's kind of upset by that. Well, you know, we all remember things differently. And it was a big important, moment for him, and she doesn't know what he's talking about.

SIMON: Like I say, so many of us have vivid memories of a favorite teacher who taught us things, showed us the way...

Mr. LAIRD: Hmm.

SIMON: ...and the thought that they may not remember us...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: ...except as a name on an attendance list or something...

Mr. LAIRD: Yeah.

SIMON: ...and certainly don't remember the important things they taught us, that's hard to take, I don't mind telling you.

Mr. LAIRD: Yeah. It's sort of - these are all seeds of resentment inside David that he's not even fully aware of - I think to be overlooked, to be and sort of passed over.

SIMON: Do you think art can be taught?

Mr. LAIRD: You mean in terms of literature, or you mean in...

SIMON: Well, I'll leave it open-ended since you've written a novel about artists.

Mr. LAIRD: You know, you can help people who have talent and you can then direct them towards things that should help them. Yeah, well, I'll leave it there. I think it can help. You know, I didn't do a creative writing course, anything like that. I went into the law and worked as a lawyer for six years, and was writing reviews at lunch times and reading still, and then, you know, working on my own stuff. And I think that was good for me. I think if I'd gone on a writing course in that kind of hothouse atmosphere, when everyone is looking over each other's shoulders and looking what the neighbor's doing, it can be tricky to kind of strike out and do your own thing. And I was never part of a writing group. I never did anything like that. So I just read the people I liked and wrote my books, and that was probably good for me. But maybe for some people - you know, if you have two years off, it gives you space and time to read lots of books. And reading is always the best thing you can do as a writer.

SIMON: And what's happened to criticism in the Internet age?

Mr. LAIRD: You know, I don't know. I write a column for the Guardian. And I try to write about the Internet and what it's done to reading and writing. And it's definitely changed. It changed the level of discourse. You know, I've been trying to read Henry James and Dr. Johnston recently. And the complexity and the subtlety of the syntax, I find that I couldn't deal with it anymore. And I used to read Henry James at university and it took me a long while to get back into it. So it's shaping and changing our minds, definitely. We have to see what we can do. I've just been on holiday in Italy, and they did - they have a slow food movement there…

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Mr. LAIRD: …you know, you sit down for a meal and it's prepared with local ingredients. And it's a time to fight back against the fast food thing. And I thought, you know, we kind of need a slow language movement. We kind of need -like poetry is kind of an unacknowledged slow language movement and the idea that language is important in itself and does more than, you know, be denotative or whatever, it has connotations, and worth to be looked at slowly and quietly. And there's (unintelligible) poem I think about. I've been working on a four-line poem about the life of a leaf for years.

I hope it will come out right this winter. And in an age of sort of Twitter and Facebook, and all the rest of it, where language is just witty and snappy and quick, and meant to amuse rather than kind of be profound in any way, and certainly the brevity of it sort of precludes that, you got to make time for poetry and other things as well.

SIMON: Mr. Laird, thanks so much.

Mr. LAIRD: Thank you very much. Nice to talk to you, sir.

SIMON: Nick Laird, his new book is a novel, "Glover's Mistake."

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.