I find it really difficult to write a reader review of a novel. As an author I am hugely grateful to the kind people who leave reviews of my books on Amazon and other sites. I deeply feel I ought to reciprocate more. But the whole enterprise is fraught with danger.
I finish books I’ve left midway during the year for some reason. And I read my Christmas present books. I read books I’ve been setting aside so I can take a good long run at them. And I experiment with books that other people have recommended during the seasonal socialising. And I go back to old favourites because, let’s face it, this is the time of year when memories get hold of you and I’ve got some lovely Bookish Memories.
It’s a Science Fiction story of the tough, probably do-able, sound-science variety. It is structured like a court room drama, with a number of different voices giving accounts of certain key events that have brought us to the opening chapter. So it is, yes, about 85% back story. And it’s a slow build. Gripping, though.
At least it was when I went back to it. But I’d put it down without regret for some months.
Reader Review of Midway Book?
Having done so, I’m really glad I finished it. It is full of interest, action and conflict. Several characters show different aspects and develop over the course of the story.
But one key character’s own voice is absent for most of the story and another key actor in what turns out to be a twenty-year drama appears very late and is short-changed, in my view. And the ending is.. well, what? Compressed? Enigmatic? Not entirely satisfactory anyway. To me.
That’s the point. To me.
Other readers, bringing different experience, interests or sympathies to the book may love it. My honest review might well put them off.
See my dilemma? AAARGH.
Books Recommended by Other People
But I am half way through The Old Reliable by P G Wodehouse. I did actually have it on my shelf but couldn’t remember reading it before and, to be honest, it’s not gripping me so far, though the incidental joys are undoubted.
Its advocate described it as being “out of the common way” for PGW, which I interpreted to mean a little closer to real life, maybe more heartfelt, even. So I shall stick with it. But so far, the jury’s out. If it weren’t PGW who is, of course, a genius and my hero and whose work always contains those little shafts of sunlight, I’d be seriously disappointed and, possibly, crossing the writer off my “Have Another Go” list. So there’s the second risk.
Recommending a Book
At the same time as the exchange above, I urged upon him one of my own favourites from the master – Hot Water. Now I did once write a review of that book, out of purest love and awe, sustained over many years.
It also brings with it one of my happiest memories: curled up with cat on lap, female parent on the other side of a crackling fire, both of us happy as grigs in our own book of choice. (Hers was a Poldark, if I remember aright.) Peace and good will to all men!
My interlocutor is currently re-reading Tender Is the Night and is much impressed. In my review, I compare the two – “same period, same landscape, same floundering American expats; even, God help us, the same level of inebriation.”
I also said, “I sometimes imagine what Fitzgerald would have made of J. Wellington Gedge and his power-broking wife. Probably the poor sap would have ended up as Ambassador to France, wearing knickerbockers, after all, while Mrs Gedge ran a salon of whiskered blokes and waged war against Gertrude Stein.”
You may perhaps feel that is a little harsh. I stick by it and have now printed off my review to send to the Fitzgerald Fancier. I fear, though, it may be the end of a beautiful friendship.
Because I offered to lend him Hot Water. He accepted, on the grounds that he could not imagine what it had in common with Tender is the Night and was eager to find out. But as soon as I handed it over, he flicked through it and said dismissively, “Oh, that one. Yes. I’ve read it.”
Ouch. So that is always the third risk – even when I’m passionately engaged with a book, nothing makes my judgement of it right for everyone. And my reader review may be way off base and annoy.
So there you have the problem. I am not very good at reader reviews, either writing them or interpreting them.
So far, the only solution I’ve found is to produce a reader review only for books that I really, really love, and can honestly give five stars to. But even that is fraught with the risk of pissing off people who don’t love it and then feel cheated. So what should I do?
Advise me. PLEASE.
A very happy and successful New Year to all. May your reading bring you joy!