Norman Mailer, addressing a capacity audience at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue last night (the occasion was part of a monthlong literary festival sponsored by the Orange mobile phone company), said that nothing in his recollection—not even the Kennedy nor the King assassinations—had caused such a national trauma as September 11. "There's never been anything like it," he said. Yet Mailer doesn't believe this justifies George W. Bush's war on an "axis of evil". "I hate the word 'evil'," Mailer said. While Bush, in his view, was a better president than Bill Clinton, it was absurd that he should encourage Americans to believe that their country was intrinsically good. The United States was an imperfect, often violent democracy, he said. And it had been made all the more imperfect since September 11 by the disappearance of dissent. The Left had all but vanished from the American political scene, Mailer complained. Television, with its ceaseless commercial breaks, had ruined people's ability to concentrate. And corporate America, which he called a much more successful version of the Soviet Politburo, had destroyed people's ability to think. The pursuit of money had entirely eclipsed the pursuit of happiness. The 800-strong audience left the Apollo and walked into the London drizzle to think about this vigorous 79-year-old American's mauling of his own country, while the stagehands at the Apollo cleared away the chairs and readied the theatre for that evening's performance of Noel Coward's Star Quality.
Afterwards, Mailer and Andrew O'Hagan, who had interviewed him on stage, went to dinner at the Savoy, where they were joined by Germaine Greer, Mick Jagger, and Bob Geldof. At the end of the evening, Mailer was presented with a first edition of Nicholas Nickleby by his hosts, Orange. Years ago, he said, an American critic had implored him to read Dickens, but he had resisted because he didn't believe Dickens's prose was as good as his own. But some time later, he had reluctantly read Dombey & Son, and that had changed his view.