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Wednesday, 26 October 2011
Scapegoat by Charlie Campbell
I have to be a little careful here for fear of treading on ground previously and better trodden upon by reviewers of deserved repute. By that I mean making it clear I've stolen the ideas of people paid to do this sort of thing and passing it off as my own. Francis Wheen, Christopher Bray and Frances Wilson have, in their own eminently imitable fashion, paid tribute to this entertaining Socratic examination of our tendency to offload guilt like an unwanted Christmas pullover on to the first likely charitable candidate, presented in a willowy thin volume of no little beauty. To this formidable array of talent I would be as an independent bookshop is to Amazon - of no concern, until I start stealing their copy for my own nefarious purposes. I know critics all meet up for gin slings and vol au vents at the Pigalle Club, so if one were to notice, then I'm certain all would quickly find out. And like Amazon crushing independent retailers, my fate would be sealed. In cement and dropped in the Thames.
So, I will mind-wipe their excellent reviews and pootle about with a few words of my own.
I have much time for the digested read. In my fast-paced yet strangely work-shy world, I don't have time to read lengthy critiques of cultural folly. Indeed, the soundtrack to my life is infuriatingly up-tempo. It's quite tiring. So thank the lord I can read a thoroughly enjoyable potted history of the blame game in an afternoon without other interests suffering. Both whimsical and serious, Campbell does a great job of making us laugh at ourselves whilst gently highlighting the propensity for scapegoating in even the more enlightened of societies - here I might make a point of saying that in the Buddhist view sin and suffering are not synonymous - and that it is not confined to the dusty annals of history. I can't help but chuckle at the image of Lord Mandy being soundly thrashed by Tony Blair in his incarnation as the Labour whipping boy. And one cannot help but find the reports of trials of animals, flies and even swords bemusing from a contemporary perspective. What the book lacks, and this is likely deliberate so can't be a criticism as such, is more - more of everything! I want to read more about the witch trials (especially in Britain), about the biblical scapegoat, about the etymology of the word and about the Jungian concept of the Shadow. But there isn't any more to be had.
No blame can be attached to Mr Campbell. Frankly it's probably a bit rich to expect it all in one handy volume. In this case (and this is rare so mark it in your diary) I can only blame myself for expecting too much. What is here is rather good - fun, illuminating and well written, Scapegoat is definitely worthy of a Wheen review. Perhaps in paperback or later print runs we could get a list of further reading, you know, to keep us going. Feel free to blame the editor if it doesn't come to pass.