Some might think that Giles Coren is a lifestyle columnist who writes jokey articles about restaurants, cuisine and the trials of middle age. He is not. “Giles Coren” is in fact a morbid exercise in performance art: a fictitious sociopath who has sprung from the mind of its presumably more sane, decent and reasonable creator Giles Coren. “Coren”, the character, is, much like the real man, a middle class restaurant critic and opinion columnist, yet he is also misanthropic, vindictive, lascivious and bigoted.
This intrepretation makes a lot of sense of his career. It outraged me that Giles Coren had published a vicious hit piece libelling Polish immigrants as descendants of people who “used to amuse themselves…by locking Jews in the synagogue and setting fire to it”. I could not imagine how he had kept his job after responding to complaints with, “fuck the Poles”. If a Polish writer said that Jewish people were descendants of Jakub Berman and Julia Brystiger, and responded to complaints with “fuck the Jews”, they would be sacked, and very rightly so. Yet if “Coren” is a character, whose ranting is meant to provide an insight into dark recesses of a sociopathic mind, it is understandable.
“Coren” is in trouble for an Esquire essay in which he expressed his fears that his son would grow up to be fat. “I know what you’re thinking,” he wrote underneath a picture of a little boy who is in no sense overweight, “You’re thinking, “Fat little bastard”.” “Coren” went on to insist that “each actual fat person is blatantly just a badly brought-up, greedy little son of a bitch…I’d kill them all and render them down for candles.” To call this “fat shaming” is a hilarious understatement. This is the demented tirade of a bourgeois Jerry Sadowitz.
What is strange is that people act as if Coren is a jokey lifestyle columnist. His every outburst of depravity is thought comic exaggeration, or, at worst, over the top. Am I the only person who appreciates that this is a postmodern social satire which makes Portnoy’s Complaint look like a children’s book? What does it say about us that so few realise?