Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The trouble with book reviewing

Ruth Franklin has an interesting piece on book reviewing at the New Republic. It's smart, well-written, thoughtful: and the funny thing is that I completely disagree with her in almost every particular! The second half is an encomium for David Mitchell's Black Swan Green, which I disliked more than almost any other novel I've read in the last year or so. The first half of the piece explores the premise that "[b]ad reviews are motivated by anger, but good reviews are motivated by love; and it is easier to become angry than to fall in love." Though undoubtedly I now & then read a book that makes me angry, I find it much, much easier to fall in love than to become angry!

3 comments:

  1. Franklin understands the one essential point about BSG, namely that 'the language of the novel mimics Jason's own experiments as he tries to find his voice', though I am still sceptical about whether this is always psychologically authentic. However, she would have done well to have read a great deal more YA literature, I suspect, before claiming BSG is 'the funniest novel of adolescence since Catcher in the Rye, or the most painful portrait of boyish aggression since Lord of the Flies, or the most inventive depiction of teenage language since A Clockwork Orange, or the most nuanced account of the loss of innocence since Le Grand Meaulnes.' Nor is Mitchell's use of these classics particularly insightful or even original, as Franklin seems to suggest.

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  2. "The second half is an encomium for David Mitchell's Black Swan Green, which I disliked more than almost any other novel I've read in the last year or so."

    Really? More than any other novel? I can see disliking it, although not to this extent - could you elaborate?

    -GH

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  3. Well, when I was writing that post I got tangled up in a parenthetical aside that I ended up deleting, along the lines of "in the way that you can only hate a rich and complex major work of art as opposed to something you just don't care about," only then I felt I was giving the book too much credit! This and that "Book Thief" novel were the two that provoked in me this sense of great talents misdirected, which does make me a bit angry (but "Book Thief" made me angrier, BSG more like just annoyed).

    Normally when I start reading a novel I'm not liking I just put it aside! If you think about it, you'll see that I pretty much only read and write here about things I like, with very few exceptions. So liking minor books and writers may also be distinguished from hating major ones (I sort of hate the writing of Don DeLillo for instance, though I take the strong feelings his books provoke in me to be related to the great admiration he draws from others)....

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