Top Ten Tuesday

Can You Review A novel In One Word? Or Five?

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic asks for one word reviews for the last ten books I read. I gave it a go but it proved a fatuous exercise.

Without context, the single words had little meaning. To say a book is “entrancing” for example, doesn’t explain what makes it so — is it the setting or the characters? If I say another book is “long” is that necessarily a criticism? It might be long and dull, or long and fascinating. Again, without further explanation the word is senseless.

Single word descriptors don’t convey anything that would help a prospective reader understand what to expect. Nor do they differentiate one book from thousands of others.

So I’ve taken a different tack. I imagined being asked to describe some of my recent reads in as few words as possible. It’s a little like the Elevator Speech exercise which is used to get people to learn how to succinctly convey a message.

Five was as low as I could go without losing all meaning.

I’m not convinced the results would be particularly insightful for other potential readers but, if nothing else, this exercise demonstrated that it’s much harder to write succinctly than it is to write at length.

Here are my ten titles in chronological order, backwards from the most recently finished. Hyperlinks take you to my reviews (as you can tell, I am way behind with these).

His Excellency Eugene Rougon by Émile Zola

Hunger for power. Political corruption.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel

Fragility of life. Financial fraud.

She Who Was No More  by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac

Cherchez la femme. Love deceived.

Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

Misfit misses out on life 

Heaven by Meiko Kawakami 

Odd friendship born from adversity.

The Last Chronicles of Barset by Anthony Trollope

Clergyman falls on his dignity.

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan 

Moral courage confronts church’s callousness.

Sacred Country by Rose Tremain

Hidden desires of life’s outsiders.

The Long Dry by Cynan Jones 

Marriage withers amid unspoken pain

You by Phil Whitaker 

Innocent victims of marital breakdown  

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules and the list of topics visit the Top Ten Tuesday page on her blog.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

38 thoughts on “Can You Review A novel In One Word? Or Five?

  • I’m attempting to shorten my reviews too (or some of them anyway), but I could never do five words, although I may borrow your one for the Claire Keegan book, as it sums it perfectly!

    • Borrow away Brona. It was an interesting exercise but I’m not going to make it part of my standard practice. Most books deserve more than a 5 word response

  • I have great difficulty trying to write short reviews – they never seem enough. I used to hate writing a précis in English lessons at school, but it certainly exercises the brain!

    • I usually find myself including far too much detail about the plot. It’s hard to stop that

  • I was very interested in your post. I would like to be able to write much shorter reviews than I do now, but have a hard time when I try. Even keeping it to two brief paragraphs is very hard. I thought your five word reviews were well done. Maybe a much shorter approach works well if someone is already familiar with the book and just wants to know the particular reader’s overall reaction. But I usually want to know more than that.

    Anyway, you have inspired me to work on some word limit just to see if I move myself to a shorter overall format.

    • It’s a tricky balance to get right isn’t it? If you don’t give details about the plot/storyline then someone unfamiliar with the book can’t judge if they’ll be interested. But sometimes you end up giving too much plot and not enough about your reaction.
      I don’t see myself ever being able to do just two paragraph reviews – you’ve given yourself a tough challenge there

    • I’ve never attempted it before. It’s easier with some kinds of books than others – crime fiction I would think could be quite easy but some of the classics which have multiple themes would be a challenge

  • Your 5 words on Tyler’s Redhead on the side of the road, were perfect. I read, and disliked, the novel.

    • I was surprised to find I enjoyed that book though I don’t see myself ever being a big Anne Tyler fan

    • Ha Ha, I changed my mind so many times for some of these titles

  • I agree with your initial summation, it’s a fatuous thing to do.
    *chuckle* But it makes a good item for another Top Ten Tuesday topic: ‘Ten Time Wasters with no point and no purpose.’

    • We should suggest that topic for Top Ten Tuesday – would be interesting to see what people come up with 🙂

  • Pretty good and now I do want to read Claire Keegan! Bit I’m the verbose type so it would NEVER work for me.

    • I tend to be long-winded too Kat so in a sense this was a good discipline though I don’t think I’ll make it a regular way of doing reviews

    • I can’t claim that what I came up with can really be described as a review!

  • I agree that one word just isn’t enough. This week’s topic was very difficult! I like the idea of using five words instead – I haven’t read any of these books apart from the Trollope, but you’ve managed to convey what they’re about very well!

    • It’s easier to do 5 words than 1!. I tried 10 words too and that was even easier

  • I love your five word descriptions. This task is too hard for me, I’m not even going to attempt it!

  • I thought the same thing which is why I decided to skip this week’s post. One word just doesn’t cut it.

  • Love your five word review of The Last Chronicles of Barset!

    • That was a tough one because there are so many plots in that book!

  • I like your phrase idea! I still need to write my post!

    • Now I’m going to be curious what you come up with – you always take a creative angle

      • I’m doing one word reviews of my last 10 five star reads! I have too many duds in my last 10 books read!

        • Took a quick glance at your post this morning but didn’t get a chance to comment and have been out all day. I shall read it again

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