Archives: reviewing

Three new reviews

After an absence whose days were full but not fertile, here are Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens, Playing House by Amy Choi, and the wonderful Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son.

Astute (one may say time-fortunate) readers may note the newish and natty little quote hanging around recently added reviews. This quaint folly is my editor’s request: a word or three above “thumbs up/thumbs down”, and retained here.

Gently amusing fact: This review quote in the Orphan Master’s Son review should read “Brave New World meets 1984 in the DPRK”.*

However, when I saw it in print, it read “Brave New World meets 1984 in the dark.”

Obtuse, no?


(*Yes, yes, more than a little pretentious, I agree.)


I’m all in a dither over this latest review. Already, it’s taken much longer to write than usual. It has been written, deleted, rewritten a few times. The book was poor. I disliked it on a number of levels: starting with the macro, I think the genre of “memoir” can do without half-life scratches from less-than-fabulous nobodies. I didn’t like the writer as she placed herself on the page. I wasn’t interested in much of her life, and the bits that could have been interesting were written from an uninformed place with little apparent self-awareness. Oh, she could write a sentence. But the subject matter wasn’t there, and the promised insight into a different culture went missing, too.

But it’s a first book. And if I write what I think, I will be cruel. I don’t want to be nasty; I don’t want to hurt someone I’ve never met. However, as a reviewer, I owe my readers honesty. It’s the usual review paradox. I could go all Dorothy Parker. But what would that get us all, except for smug? But then, why should I sweeten this stranger’s pill? Because I don’t want her five enormous brothers standing outside my front door with polished fists*?

It’s actually made me a little miffed, which I know is immature, at the publishing house responsible. By publishing something so meh, something potentially glorious has missed out.

Everyone’s a critic; nobody likes a critic.




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