The New Yorker does not encourage letters of rejoinder, but Andrew Franklin, Truss’s editor at her publishers, Profile Books, is happy to answer back. He is not to be outdone in witheringness by Louis Menand. The problem is mostly the critic’s humourlessness. “If you have no sense of humour”, Franklin thinks, the success of Truss’s book will be a mystery to you. Misunderstanding the purpose of her book, which is not a style guide but an entertaining “call to arms”, Menand has pedantically reached for a non-existent rule book. “I think he’s a tosser. You’re welcome to use that,” Franklin remarked when I quizzed him for his views on Truss’s antagonist. “I’d never want to spend an evening in his company.” Rules in English “are more complicated and sophisticated” than he can dream of, he adds. Good writers can break the rules, provided they have learned them before they break them.
Why should it have so provoked one of the New Yorker’s leading writers? “A twisted colon” is one of Franklin’s explanations, but he also has a weightier cultural analysis. The attack is “deeply xenophobic”. An American critic who is used to his readers having their eyes only on American culture has seen them reach for an idiosyncratic English book for a discussion of grammar. So far the book has sold 800,000 copies in the US, about as many as it has sold in Britain. For the arbiter of matters literary and linguistic in the New Yorker chair, it is, Franklin guesses, just too much.