Reading another spy novel by John Le Carré, this time Absolute Friends (2003), I didn’t expect to come across any metalinguistic comments relating to prescriptivism since most of the novel is situated in Germany. But I did find this absolute gem (p. 353):
“His [i.e. the main character, Mundy] old classroom is bare: desks, chairs, coatracks, all gone, sold. But his writing is still on the blackboard, and he can hear his own voice reading it:
As a valued customer of British Rail, we would like to apologize to you for the presence of the wrong kind of snow on the line.
Question: Who is the customer?
Question: Who is the subject of the sentence?
Question: Why is this the wrong kind of sentence?”
Why would Le Carré have chosen this particular usage problem, I wondered? The answer appeared about 90 pages later, when Jake, Mundy’s son, at a press conference upon his father’s death, produced “a grammatical solecism that must have had Mundy spinning in his grave: ‘As my natural father, I shall always feel there is a hole in my life I can never fill’” (p. 445)