Tag Archives: Norman Geras

Sloppy Genre Novels, a Reader’s Perspective

sloppy genre novels NY Times Book reviewIn a recent piece in the New York Times Book Review a well known British novelist is scathing about what she calls “sloppy genre novels”.

I’m currently in Reader Mode. (I’m editing. That always sends me to reading for consolation.) Writerly reaction will have to wait.

But Facebook has shown me that several genre novelists have raised an eyebrow at this apparent attack.

The phrase is racy and moderately memorable. Memorable enough to make it into the puff paragraph, anyway. It is, alas, imprecise.

Attack on Genre Novels?

sloppy genre novels blow landingThe art of the insult, of course, is to leave third parties in no doubt of what you think. In particular, you want to ensure that those whose efforts you have under your cosh are quite certain that the blow has landed.

This phrase doesn’t.

It begs the question:

  1. are some genre novels sloppy and some not?
  2. is the quality of being sloppy an inseparable accidens of any novel which may be sorted into any genre?
  3. is there a sloppy genre? (Possibly what Webster’s dictionary defines as “romantic in a foolish or exaggerated way” and what my friend Professor Brainstawm, whom I have mentioned on this blog before, would call “a bit soppy.” I interpret this to mean that the work deals with human emotions, particularly love, which the characters articulate in a fashion that sends your Restrained Englishman into an agony of embarrassment. Bless.)
  4. does sloppy in this context mean one or all of: careless, slapdash, messy, excessively casual, inattentive, showing a lack of care, attention or effort?

Material for a good argument, maybe, but a bit specialised and likely to end inharmoniously. I’m going to dump this debate in the trash can without regret.

Reader of Genre Novels?

I’ve been reading fiction a long time and I think of books first and foremost as individuals. Like many readers, the only genre I really notice is Harlequin Mills & Boon. And that’s because the books come in a uniform, like air crew.

What’s more, when Amazon tries to persuade me that I’d like more of the same genre, I give a hollow laugh. The theory seems to be: read one Italian detective, read 50 of the blighters.

I mean, you’d laugh if someone said, “You like this Asian thirty-year-old who reads Patrick O’Brian and does parkour, so you’d like all these other Asian 18th-century-naval-fantasists who jump over bits of urban architecture for fun,” wouldn’t you? I mean one Nelson wannabe is enough for anyone.

So if I read Harlequin Mills & Boon I might feel a bit put off by this hectoring Brit telling me that it’s bad. But otherwise, I’m probably not going to identify as a reader of genre fiction.

Reader Seeks Book

But what I am still looking for is what the New York Times “By the Book” format promises me – word of mouth reading recommendations. And not one of the books which she mentions comes out of this interview as really mouth-watering.

In fact, I so profoundly disagree with one of her points, that I wrote a sort of refutation of it seven Sloppy genre novels Hot Water PGWyears ago! If I were going off on holiday to France and wanted, while lounging by the pool, to read about the pre-war drinking class of American expats on the Riviera, I would not choose Tender is the Night. I’d go for Hot Water  by P G Wodehouse.

Professor Norman Geras invited me to write a review of a novel of my choice on his wonderful, quirky, humane blog. He’d had some distinguished guests and even more distinguished book recommendations, so I was particularly gleeful that he accepted PGW. Hot Water, as I said at the time bears comparison with the Fitzgerald in many aspects. And, unlike the semi-autobiographical shenanigans of Fitzgerald’s joyless alcoholics, it is a delight.

sloppy genre PGW But, if you won’t take my word, take the Master’s. It was, wrote PGW on publication, quietly satisfied for once, “A corker. There isn’t an incident in it that doesn’t act as a delayed bomb and lead to an explosion later.”


Small, Select Genre

PGW, of course, virtually created his own genre. Arguably he was joined there by successors Tom Sharpe and the wondrous Terry Pratchett. And not a sloppy book among them, in any of the meanings of the word.

Hot Water. You won’t regret it.

Inspiration: Love Letters not Analysis

Inspiration: Criticism or love letters?

love letter inspirationBack in the early 60s, theatrical criticism in Britain threw up its hands and resorted to love letters instead. The cause was Vanessa Redgrave starring in As You Like It, directed by Michael Elliot. She was 24 years old and luminous, with a voice that still pushes all those emotional buttons in the weekly Voice-Over to Call The Midwife.

Bernard Levin, a notoriously astringent theatre critic, wrote “If the word enchantment has any meaning, it is here,” and fell in love with her. Fifty-four years later, Michael Billington was still rhapsodizing about the performance in The Guardian.

The Award-Winning, Five-Star, Chart-Topper Delusion

5 star delusion not inspiration

In spite of his rhapsodies, however, Billington, a professional to his fingertips, couldn’t quite resist calling it “her gold standard Rosalind”. As if there were some sort of industry blueprint.

Amazon, with a star-rating system based on hotel comparator techniques, seems to be doing something similar. So do the bestseller charts. But, as (best seller) Patricia McLinn recently pointed out, sadly they can be manipulated, so they are not statistically reliable.

Sharing a Magical Journey

When someone recommends a book to me, what I remember is how they felt about it, not their measured assessment of the style, theme and content. I certainly don’t care if, after they’ve finished, they’d give the book ten out of ten or a patronising seven and a half for effort.

through door to magic - love letters inspiration



I want to know what it was like to go through the door into the world of that book.



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