The Craft of Reviewing Print

On another tack, my day job is reviewing. I have a weekly column in M magazine, Sunday AGE. Here I review anything except books for the younger reader, that being Fran Atkinson's patch (on the same page). And I have just sent a stern note to a publicist asking her please not to send me any more serial killer novels, as I have developed this terrible allergy to them.

Reviewing is a tricky job. You have to identify the audience for the book (sometimes not what the publisher thinks it is). You then judge genre, and how well the book succeeds within that genre. And in that I include the literary novel. Such concerns are quite apart from whether you know the author or not. My rule of thumb is no friends, enemies, people with whom you have a professional relationship, and sensitive little plants. Even if the latter are six foot tall macho novelists who are old and ugly enough to know better.

Sometimes reviewing is a license is to be well, pernickety. I once told a publisher that having a mention of EAST LYNN by Mrs Humphrey Ward in a novel was a turn-off, as both title and author were wrong. For those who like Victoriana, it should have been Mrs Henry Wood's EAST LYNNE, one of the defining popular fiction blockbusters of the age. I invented an alter ego for my reviews, the Pedant from Hell, who helpfully points out such faults. I now find that people think it is my other half. No, just my other self.

At the Scribe Party last week, I met another reviewer for the first time. We both found we carry review books around with us. Mine was Joe Hilll's HORNS. "Can I show you something?" she said, and went off to fetch her current new release.

"Now," she said, opening her book, " does this paragraph make any sense to you?"

I looked at it. "Is that an allusion to Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN?"


"I don't think it does make any sense even with the allusion."

She turned back to the first page.

"And what do you make of the opening paragraph?"

In retrospect I should have said: a mud pie. But words failed me. I think I said: "Oh dear."

Somehow I think neither of us will review the book.