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James Clelland

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

A review of seven book reviews

Seven book reviews of the EU Award winner, Deeper than Colour and more than seven opinions. The variation between reviewers has been fascinating, so, to try and make some sense of this huge distribution I have classified all the direct comments into nice and not-nice (sorry, not very original), with a really interesting group in between. So the stats first: Deeper than Colour received eighteen nice comments, nine not-nice comments and four in-between comments. The nice ones are worth dwelling on (I am a writer and have an ego after all) and my favourites are mature, dark, passionate, powerful, beautiful language, compulsively readable and irresistible. A few of those nice comments have never been applied to me before, but I’ll draw a veil over which ones and leave you to work it out for yourself. The not-nice comments, well, I suppose I’d better reluctantly tell you a few of them: contrived, not pleasant, superficial, saturated in ugliness (I almost put that into the nice category) and my especial favourite, sorry, gory, lonely, ugly tale. Yes, that was one comment and at least I knew the comment was accurate enough for me to know that the reviewer had read the book. The in-between comments were disturbing, toxic, bitter and morbid, so you can see that depending on mood, hormone levels and number of whiskies, they could sit quite happily in either category. What is the point of this mini-survey? Well, much chat has taken place on the need for stringent and international standard reviews – okay, no one said that, but it was implied. But it seems that there will always be the individual human opinion involved, as one should expect. We are not robots and humans disagree, which I think is quite healthy. But, my point is, which of these comments is tough and telling it like it is, and which is part of the alledged palsy-walsy act between writers and reviewers? I have no idea. But maybe I should point out that I reviewed fiction for the Rand Daily Mail for years, right up to when it sadly closed despite the fact I’d never completed a novel at that stage of my so-called-writing-career. Did that make me a unsuitable reviewer? Am I more suitable now because one of my several novels has been published? And if so, why? What makes a suitable reviewer anyway?

My own recent and briefl experience illustrates that there are reviewers who write abstract pieces, ones who write personal pieces, some who pick on strange points to disapprove of and some who give the entire story of the novel without expressing an opinion. So, what is right? Or, in the long run, does it matter? Maybe a review is worth something in sales and readership regardless of the opinions expressed in it. Just a thought, use it, lose it. whatever! Time for another whisky, dammit.


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