Anne Enright at the London Review of Books:
In 2015, the novelist Catherine Nichols sent the opening pages of the book she was working on to fifty literary agents. She got so little response she decided to shift gender and try as ‘George’ instead. The difference amazed her. ‘A third of the agents who saw his query wanted to see more, where my numbers never did shift from one in 25.’ The words, as written by George, had an appeal that Catherine could only envy. She also, perhaps, felt a little robbed. ‘He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book.’
This was hardly a scientific study, but it is tempting to join her in concluding that men and women are read differently, even when they write the same thing. If a man writes ‘The cat sat on the mat’ we admire the economy of his prose; if a woman does we find it banal. If a man writes ‘The cat sat on the mat’ we are taken by the simplicity of his sentence structure, its toughness and precision. We understand the connection between ‘cat’ and ‘mat’, sense the grace of the animal, admire the way the percussive monosyllables sharpen the geometrics of the mat beneath. If the man is an Irish writer we ask if the cat is Pangúr Ban, the monk’s cat from the ninth-century poem of that name – the use of assonance surely points to the Gaelic tradition – in which case the mat is his monk’s cell, a representation of the life of the mind, its comforts and delineations.