On negative reviews

April 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’ve never been a fan of the hatchet job. I understand that it’s an art form in itself, that it’s entertaining, and that it livens up reviews pages, often so full of lukewarm praise and a fear of criticising the person who might bury the reviewer’s own novel in a year’s time. But I try to remember that the author who wrote the book I’m reviewing is actually a person with feelings, a person who probably spent years writing the book, and I aim to be fair even in harsh criticisms (not all of the people whose books I’ve reviewed will be convinced that I manage this). From the quotes I’ve seen, Adam Mars-Jones prizewinning hatchet job largely follows my rules too, he’s just funnier than I am. The real hatchet jobs are the ones where you can see a personal or professional hostility exists, but aren’t privy to the subtext.

Since starting this blog I’ve been reviewing about half of the books I finish. Some I prefer to savour without writing about them; others I simply don’t have much to say about, even if I enjoyed them. But each time I’ve started out writing about a book I didn’t like, I’ve come to appreciate it more through writing about it, through trying to figure out what the author was trying to achieve, even if they didn’t quite succeed. It’s been an interesting experience in that sense, and also curious how quickly my reviewing eye has started to notice things like structure, character development and skill in the actual craft of writing during the first read, instead of during the post-read analysis. So this blog has changed me as both a reader and a reviewer, and hopefully for the better. But there’s always a place for criticising something done badly


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