Saturday 4 April 2015
Book Critics - What Are They Good For? Absolutely Nothing!
At last, someone (Professor Michael Luca) has come out and said what we've always known: there is absolutely no difference in the quality and accuracy of a book review by an 'ordinary' reader on Amazon, and a professional book critic. Moreover (and we all knew this, as well) critics were more likely to praise a book when the author was well-known/a prizewinner/had garnered press-coverage/ was connected to some media outlet.
I am leery of reviews, whoever writes them, ever since Dark Side of Midnight was compared unfavourably on Amazon to a certain well-known children's writer in the same field. This happened so many times, that the words 'stitch-up' came to mind. I have also read reviews of books by writers whom I know share the same publisher/agent. Or where some personal spat is being used to exact revenge.
The fakery of the 'professional' critic was no more clearly exposed than when Robert Galbraith, crime fiction writer, whose first novel had been rather indifferently received, was exposed as J K Rowling. Cue for more 5 star plaudits than you or I have had hot dinners. And it is always ironic when Sunday Review sections ask writers to suggest their summer/Christmas best reads how often the same old familiar authors appear in different papers. No money or favours have been proffered ... of course not.
Both my Victorian Crime novels have garnered a slew of 'ordinary' reader reviews on Amazon, veering from Five Star 'Best book ever' to One Star 'Didn't like it'. They've also had a couple of mainstream reviews in The Lady, The Mitford Society Magazine and similar publications. Honestly, if you switched reviews, you'd be hard put to tell who was 'the professional' and who 'the ordinary reader'. (Well, except in the case of the One Star people.)
Charlotte Bronte was equally sceptical. She wrote in 1850, over the sisters' decision to adopt the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell: 'We had the impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice; we had noticed how critics sometimes used for their chastisement the weapon of 'personality' and for their reward, a flattery which is not true praise.'
Interestingly, when Wuthering Heights was first published in 1847, Ellis Bell was praised for the strength and passion of 'his' tale. As soon as it was revealed, however, that 'Ellis' was in fact 'Emily', the reviewer slated the book as being 'odious and abominably pagan'.
Nul points, that critic.