My official position on reviews is that authors shouldn’t read them. If they’re bad they can pull your confidence from under you like a rug on linoleum. If they’re good they may bathe you in an unmerited glow. I regret to say I abandon this position at the drop of an email.
So it was on Monday that my publicist alerted me to what she described as ‘an unnecessarily snippy review’ in the Sunday Times. Could I leave the file unopened? No. I just had to run, throat bared, towards the reviewer’s knife. The charge : that The Grand Duchess of Nowhere lacks rigorous rooting in historical time and place. This was all the more painful for being sandwiched between cracking reviews of books by two already hugely successful novelists.
Was it a fair comment? Well it would have been had I ever made any pretence of being a thorough historian or an educator. But mainly I hope my books will entertain. If I failed to entertain that particular reviewer the fault is certainly mine. Or perhaps being entertained isn’t her thing. I noticed she praised Victoria Hislop for her ‘anti-beach’ books. This says something about her tastes. But there’s a time and place for everything. What kind of poseur takes War and Peace to Torquay? Personally I’d be thrilled for any of my books to be chucked in the bag with the sun cream and the picnic blanket.
Anyway, it was Monday and before me stretched a week of writing, plagued by fears and uncertainties, but on we must go. Sticks and stones and all that. It crossed my mind to ask Margot not to send me any more reviews. Then on Wednesday I was glad I hadn’t because in came a lovely on-line notice from Random Jottings which began, Now this I loved. And pathetic though it may be, that’s all it took to restore my equilibrium.
Many years ago I did a bit of book-reviewing. I soon jacked it in. Book buyers are entitled to reviews – I read them myself and sometimes a good review prompts me to buy the book – but when I was reviewing I was always conscious of the author. It was far too easy to destroy someone’s work with a smartass complaint. If you don’t like the book, kinder to lay it aside and review something you did like. Silence can be eloquent, but far less damaging.
So, the weekend again already and Margot will now be going feverishly through the review sections. Monday morning I’ll be hiding behind the couch.