Saturday, October 20, 2007

Incest and the Reviewer

Chairman of the Booker Prize committee, Howard Davies stirred up a hornet's nest at the award ceremony but using it as a platform for some harsh words about how books are reviewed in the British press. According to The Bookseller, Davies said he found reviewers guilty of adopting a reverential tone to novels which the committee felt did not come off at all, simply because they were written by established names.

(This was the year that many of the usual suspects for the prize, authors lit-buffs would have identified as dead certs, fell at the first post.)

Davies also mentioned that book by less established and new writers often failed to get noticed in the press, leading to some very good stuff being lost. His recommendations?:
I think a little more distance, and critical scepticism, is required by our reviewers, together with greater readiness to notice new names.
I personally reckon there's much in what the man says.

Times Literary Editor Erica Wagner, responds:
It is very difficult, I have found over the years, to offer any coherent defense of how and why novels are reviewed. What a strange business! Novels, I believe, exist to move the reader, to change the way a reader looks at the world; the trouble is, and ever was, that every reader (and so, every reviewer and literary editor) is different.
In the Independent David Lister describes the incestuous world of book reviewing in the UK and comes up with some guidelines for ensuring greater impartiality ... among them one that would be all but impossible to implement here in Malaysia, given our tiny pool of reviewers!:
... no book should be reviewed by a known colleague and friend of the book's author.
Maybe the most fun debate happening locally is in the comments to one of Eric's posts where Janet Tay gets quite heated about Davies' summary judgments on some of the books.

1 comment:

Dean said...

This is absolutely true. It's also a shame. To interview an established author and make it interesting is easy due to the ability to quote sales figures, numbers of books sold, etc.

To take an unknown but talented writer and make it interesting is a challenge. Unfortunately, lit editors won't touch them as they don't see 'relevance'.

This is why I ignore prizes now. They add nothing to the experience of literature and are no indication of future greatness.