Sunday Salon: Review dilemma

Savidge Reads triggered a discussion this week on the art of reviewing. The question posed was whether reviews have become more ‘samey’ because bloggers feel compelled when they receive a book for review, to make their comments ‘fair and nice’ rather than reflecting an honest opinion.

The question couldn’t have been more timely because it’s one I’ve been wrestling with over the last few days.

During the past week I’ve been reading an advance copy of a novel supplied to me via NetGalley. The beginning was so bad I would have abandoned it had I got it from the library or borrowed it from a friend. But the fact it was a review copy somehow made me feel obliged to plough on. And it did get better eventually – not great – not even good, just better. It’s still a deeply flawed novel. So now the dilemma I face is how to provide feedback.

Do I let the publishers know about the basic factual errors such as having your main character  wear a silk dress where five paragraphs earlier she was wearing velvet?  Or referring to a waiter as male in one sentence, and female in the next (maybe the quickest sex change in history)? Or should I just let these pass in the belief the publishers will spot these kinds of errors in final proofing stage and really wouldn’t appreciate hearing from some clever clogs pointing out the obvious to them. I would hate to be one of those people who delight in contacting television or film drama producers with lists of factual and historical inaccuracies.

The bigger dilemma however is striking the right balance between criticising the fundamental problems of narration and characterisation and yet not demoralising the author who has put heart and soul into this creation? Easy for me to be critical maybe when all I’ve written is a few short stories (none of which I have ever had the courage to subject to public scrutiny). If I fudge the issue however and just focus on the positives, then the review is not going to be a true reflection of my opinion of the novel.

I could play chicken and simply not write a review or submit any feedback. I know the terms of NetGalley mean there is absolutely no requirement on me to write anything at all but I wouldn’t be comfortable with that – I somehow feel my comments are a fair exchange for the proof copy. So I need to write something – but just what, I don’t yet know.

How do you deal with these situations? Any tips and advice would be very welcome…

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