Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sinker Stinkers

Writers are you up for this? Yang May Ooi wrote with a fun idea:
All the furore about Hal's book started me thinking - why don't you get as many writers as you can to donate one bad review of their book? To start you off, here is one review of my first novel The Flame Tree that has nothing good to say AT ALL. The reviewer misses the point, though, that the book is not a whodunnit but that's just me being picky...

"The opening lines reads straight out of a sex thriller by Jackie Collins. Its a put- off. Extolling the virtues of the rapid development in Malaysia and a devoted paragraph to Malaysia's first car the Proton Saga, reads like an article straight from the Far Eastern Economic Review and a government propaganda piece. The plot-line gets completely lost and the build-up to the murder and corruption that the author is trying desperately to lead the reader to the end, does not capture the reader's imagination or interest.The murder takes place at page 219, but the whodunit is no where in sight and the plot gets completely lost in the heat and jungle. The author's attempts to introduce Malaysia to the rest of the world, with excerpts on its history, a former British colony etc - reads like a Lonely Planet Guide. We don't need such trite information. The Flame Tree is nothing more than a cheap soap opera and it fails badly. For her first novel written in 18 months, she needs to go back to the drawing board."

The reviewer is of course anonymous and something tells me he/ she is a Malaysian.... I wonder what gives that away?

You can see it for yourself on Amazon.co.uk - where, luckily, there are also other reviews that are more favourable (which saved me from slitting my wrists right there and then...).


I'd say that no matter who you are and how good your work, if you're talking about reviews on Amazon, someone is bound to rubbish your work (if you are lucky enough to get reviews in the first place!). Sift through the reviews of any Booker prize winner and you'll see what I mean.

And to be honest I've expressed my own frustrations about certain books on Amazon in less than kindly terms, though never anonymously (and it is not possible to do so anymore).

Anyway, if do you have a review that's a stinker, do post it here.


Anonymous said...

unfortunately, that is exactly how i felt about The Flame Tree.

i think authors ought to take a serious look at bad reviews and take to heart the constructive points. they shouldn't just feel great about the positive reviews and think "HA! look at how many positive ones i got, which means that one bad review missed the point." nope, you have to look at things from all sides.

i really had serious trouble with the "explanations" of Malaysian things in the book. it made the book read like an encyclopedia or something. it feels deliberate. a good writer would have incorporated all those things easily without having to resort to asterisks, footnotes, etc, or long passages of history lessons, etc. she or he would have incorporated it as part of the story. if you cannot merge those things into the story, then they have no reason to be there in the book.

the one thing i always wonder about is, why do we have to explain things in our books when , in many instances, i read a book by a western author and there are French words or terms in there, and no translation is given. it's as if we are expected to know them.


Tunku Halim said...

Very brave of you Yang-Mei. See what you've encouraged!

Unfortunately, other than Michael Cheang's review, I don't have any soft copies of negative review to post.

I've dug a few from my file though - and gosh those clippings have really started to yellow.

Some excerpts:

"I think I have had quite enough of Halim's attempts to impress with his vocabulary" says Prasana Chandran in the Sun. (Gosh, and I thought my style was simple!)

"Vermillion Eye is a book that struggles for its effects by building up nasty incident on nasty incident until the tasteless whole is more in danger of collapsing into farce . . . " declares Martin Spice (BTW he gave me my best quote ever: 'Vermillion Eye is one of the most unpleasant books I have read".)

"Tunku Halim has pretensions to the horror genre...He is not a master, he is not even an apprentice" sneers Wang Yi-Ren (Oh dear, I better go back to Hogwarts writing school)

Glenda Larke said...

Hey, what fun! I have only ever had one really bad review, and it was a corker from a disguntled reader over at the Barnes and Noble site, who obviously didn't like the kind of gritty fantasy I write.

And yes, I did read it carefully to see if I could learn something, and the last line does put the finger on one of the books weaknesses - there are three capture/escape scenes.

{Btw, Tunku, take some advice from a well seasoned writer: NEVER comment on a review the way you did. It doesn't do any good, and you end up with egg on your face.)

Anyway, here's the review of "The Aware" the first book in the Isles of Glory Trilogy, spelling errors included.

"An unpleasant read.

"Okay so I got this book because I trusted that previous readers were correct in their assesments but was sorely dissapointed. The author tried too hard to give her characters a rustic feel and they ended up being coarse and unpleasant. The writing showed minimal skill and while this book may have been based on a good idea it came across as unpleasant, and depressing. Personally, I don't consider an endless cycle of capture and escape all that appealing."

Azmi said...

I have read Yang May's The Flame Tree way back in 1998/9 and I enjoyed it, as much as I had enjoyed other legal thrillers-Grisham etc. When I read a book, I put a mental blinker on and forget about the author, I want to get lost in the book and be realy entertained, and escape from whatever realities there was when I pick up a book. After meeting her recently when she was in KL and learning up close about her background, I re-read the book and looked at it from a fresh perspective-from an aspiring writer's perspective and I enjoyed it even better. And I will stand by my opinion no matter what a million others had to say. And I hope that when that book of mine finally sees daylight in print, I will view all feedback with appreciation - the fact that someone picks up my book and spends his precious time to comment. Once a reviewer takes over a book, the reviewer stands exposed himself, more than the writer. I had disagreed with a number of book reviews that I had come across but people are entitled to their own opinion, no right or wrong-it is a matter of taste and sometimes, even breeding.

Sorry, as this may get me into real trouble - I cannot for the life of me appreciate JK Rowling's Harry Porter series although I would buy them for nephews, etc. I happen to know a bunch of others who think the same way but group think and marketing on how great her books are have ensured it's a runaway success. Does she care 2 hoots if someone were to write bad reviews ( as if anybody would dare at this stage?) , I don't think so. She enjoys writing her stuff and kept at it that it bacame its own brand. That is a successful writer and I take off my hat/wig to her!

bibliobibuli said...

thanks a lot, all you brave souls!

the only book review i had was one in the nst for a collection i edited "collateral damage" which was somewhat mixed. the reviewer found it patchy - a diagnosis i agreed with (but given the material i had, it couldn't be otherwise). i did get pissed off with the review because it cruelly savaged just one writer in the collection - the youngest writer (at 17) who i thought showed great promise even if she wasn't there yet.

i never told the writer about the review because i was afraid that it would stop her writing. i don't think she ever knew about it.

if she saw it now she would probably laugh her head off at it as she is a very confident poet and on her way to writing an extremely good first novel. yeah, you can guess who it is. i'm still glad i didn't tell her about her bad press as it could so easily have knocked her off her stride.

i think reviewers must be critical, but in a constructive way but this was downright insensitive!

(think i must have the review somewhere and must look it out)

Anonymous said...

Insensitivity sells. Look at Simon Cowell and Jeremy Clarkson. They're both blunt and crude, and both very rich and famous. Plus it's also fun and honest.

Yes, do post that review. Sounds like a fun read.