Grenfell Tower – comments on the long long London Review of Books article

Just before the first anniversary of the Grenfell fire, the London Review of Books gave over almost all of an issue to one long article by novelist Andrew O’Hagan – called ‘The Tower’. I haven’t linked directly to it, but it is easily found by going to the London Review of Books website.

The article has been praised by some readers, but a number of people including many close to the Grenfell community have expressed their unhappiness with many aspects of the article. People have and challenged its accuracy, questioned why it appeared as sympathetic as it did to Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council, and taken exception to some of the language used about the victims of the fire and in the local activist groups. (This article by Gavriel Hollander in New Statesman summarises many of these concerns. I will try to post some other links later.)

Like many commentators, I too felt the article set up something of a ‘straw man’, in suggesting that the overriding media message has been that ‘the council were to blame’ – despite the extensive investigations into numerous other factors – of course, in particular, the role of the construction industry.

Even though in theory some of what Mr O’Hagan discussed would be worth looking into, I found too much of the article at odds with my existing understanding, which inevitably made it harder to trust the author’s words elsewhere in the article.

But what perhaps surprised me most, coming as it did from a journal that carries a lot of reportage, was how poorly argued and sloppily written the article was.

As the rather wonderful spoken response to Mr O’Hagan’s article by poet and writer Potent Whisper put it here “60,000 words! He must think that he’s impressing us. I just think the editor at large needs an editor.”

I sent a long comment to the magazine, written from my point of view as a journalist. It is unlikely that they will publish it, because it is so long. So I am sharing it below – more or less (though not exactly) as I sent it. Continue reading