More literary insults…and this time it’s personal
A harsh review got an equally harsh retort this week, not from the author (authors are always told to keep quiet about bad reviews), but a clearly angry man who had helped to propel the novel into the international limelight .
The book is Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, winner of the 2014 Booker, and the reviewer – poet Michael Hofmann – quoted Oscar Wilde, saying the book about a Japanese prisoner of war camp on the Thailand-Burma railway during World War II would require a “heart of stone to read without laughing”.
He goes on: “You want love, it says; I got love! You want death? I got it. All the kinds. Any amount. It is all bite, and no chew.” He ends his lengthy review with the observation that the novel, based on the experiences of the author’s father, had undergone numerous drafts “…Flanagan using those that didn’t make it to ‘light the barbie’. I can’t help thinking this wasn’t the right one to spare.”
Flanagan’s champion is Professor AC Grayling, chair of the Booker judging panel who had already made his feelings clear when the winner was announced: “Some years, very good books win the Man Booker Prize but this year a masterpiece has won it”
In response to the review, he wrote that “…either Hofmann cannot read, or he has such a narrow and fantastical notion of what a novel should be that he is unable to see quality when it hits him in the face. I plump for the former.” The review must have been written on a “bad haemorrhoid day” which I guess is the male equivalent of a woman being told that it must be her time of the month.
You can read the review and the comment HERE
I also popped over to Amazon UK to see if reviewers had equally truculent attitudes. The answer is yes.
Amazon 399 reviews in total
244 five star and 28 one star.
Here’s a taste:
“…reminded of The Road, but also Hamlet, Brief Encounter, Slaughterhouse Five, Heart of Darkness, Don Quixote… Flanagan has something profound to say about life, love, death and war. I can’t see how he could have written a better novel”
“His use of language was in parts so brilliant and evocative that I had to read certain paragraphs over and over again I was so impressed.”
“Every story builds a better understanding of the characters and as a consequence, they were so engaging that I found myself slowing down as a read, trying prolong my time with them. And I am not ashamed to say I cried several times.”
“…four hundred cruel pages, the archetypes, the endless, numbing repetition of cliché’d conversations, page after page of stupid upper-class twits and evil nips and tragic salt-of-the-earth blokes far from their earth-salt homes and honest hard-working under-appreciated not-men wives; starved of insight or originality, sustained only by tiny morsels of stale authorial agenda.”
“This sub-literary, overblown collection of clichés should never have found a publisher, let alone won any sort of prize.”
Are you influenced by reviews? Should bad ones go unanswered?
I would want AC Grayling on my side in a fight but shouldn’t he have attacked Hofmann’s argument and not the man himself? Haemorrhoids haven’t got much of a place in literary criticism…
photo credit: beneneuman via photopin cc