Monday, 25 July 2011

I liked that book

A lot of us write reviews from time to time, and we all read them. In my recent attempt to review We need to talk about Kevin, which blew me out of my seat, I was struck by how reviewing comes with its own collection of stock phrases. So, here’s my guaranteed, cliché free review.

WNTTAK is a page-turner and was utterly beguiling and unputdownable. It gripped me from cover to cover. A spellbinding read with a thrilling plot, it keeps you guessing to the very last page. Written by an author at the height of her powers, this book really delivers.

Actually, I enjoyed WNTTAK so much I dedicated the whole of one of my writing Fridays to finishing it, but after reading the review above I wouldn’t be tempted to crease its spine. Perhaps I’m coming to the conclusion that the whole of English is cliché. There’s nothing to say that hasn’t been said a thousand times before with exactly the same words. It’s as if we are all a collection of monkeys with typewriters. Sooner or later another monkey will repeat the works of Shakespeare.

Take, for example, the witticism I heard on the radio the other day. I can’t remember who said it, and I can’t remember which composer he was talking about, and I’ve googled my fingers off trying, but the phrase was, “His music is not as good as it sounds.” Brilliant. It’s one of those: I-wish-I’d-said-that moments, but then I wondered how many people had independently come up with the same notion. It’s a thought that often cripples me when writing fiction. What if twenty people have written exactly the same scene? I know the answers, but it’s still scary.

So from now on I shall keep my reviews simple. As any literary agent will tell you, the only correct way to refer to your enjoyment of a novel is that you loved it.


Helen Black said...

Whenever I'm reviewing a book I'm sorely tempted to say something like: I liked this book. You may not. That's how books work. Get over it.
HB x

Roderic Vincent said...

Book review are also tricky because many writers don't want to review books they didn't enjoy, for reasons of diplomacy.

MorningAJ said...

I always get annoyed when reviews fail to tell you what the book's about. I don't want plot spoilers, but a vague guide to the story would be nice. Rather than some reviewers who think that if they liked it I should read it based solely on their taste.
(or vice versa)

JO said...

Interesting - I'm possibly beginning a book-review column for a town website - we have several local published authors, and even more self-published. I expect to have to wade through some dreadful tosh, but do think its important to give everyone a review opportunity if I can. And plan to be kind - anyone who knows me, or knows books, should be able to read between the lines (for instance, 'this is an ambitious, complex plot' - means impossible to follow?)

We'll see - ask me in six months if I'm enjoying it!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

I agree with MorningAJ: I want to make up my own mind about a book, so the bare bones of what it consists of is helpful.
Re. cliche - LOL, Rod for your 'review': and I guess cliches often get used to express enthusiasm, which is a rare and wonderful thing.

Roderic Vincent said...

Good luck, Jo. I can't say I envy that assignment. It is a tough call: how generous you should be. Perhaps one approach would be to make the reviews largely factual - what the books are about, where they are set, etc, and let the reader make up their own mind.

Fionnuala said...

I loved WNTTAK
That's all I have to say

Gillian McDade said...

Oh dear. I really struggled with this book. I found the narritive made me rather weary. I'm sorry to be one of the few who didn't like it. And Lionel spelt Carrickfergus wrong!! I'm glad you (and everyone else, Rod) enjoyed it.

Debs Riccio said...

SUCH a subjective thing, isn't it? I remember getting quite upset when a colleague gave me back a book I'd LOVED, saying she couldn't get past the first chapter as she found the MC too 'needy' - I felt like sitting her down and cajoling her into seeing it differently, but then that's not the point, is it?

Caroline Green said...

I find book reviewing surprisingly difficult....I love to read, I love to write, and I love to talk about books I'm reading. So what's the problem? Like you say, Rod, maybe it's just a lot harder than it looks. I loved 'Kevin' too.