How influenced are you by reviews that say you’d pretty much be wasting your time by reading a book? Grateful? Take this opening paragraph from a review by Judith Flanders of Isabelle Allende’s new book, Ripper, which appeared in The Sunday Times recently:
Some literary writers have patronising attitudes to genre fiction. John Banville, who writes crime-fiction as Benjamin Black, has said he produces just 100 words a day as a literary novelist, but a couple of thousand as Black. Crime-writing is easy was his subtext. Isabel Allende’s 1982 debut, The House of Spirits, introduced millions to magic realism. Her subsequent sprawling tales of love in historical settings have a devoted readership. But on the basis of Ripper, it appears Allende too thinks crime-fiction is a lesser occupation, as the essentials of the genre – narrative drive, plot development, structure, even suspense – all elude her.
It’ certainly isn’t likely to make me race off to my local bookstore/Amazon in the way that a glowing review of a new book has done many times in the past. This is particularly as Flanders follows up with a forensic dissection of the book’s flaws. Here at Stillnotfussed, I tend to only write reviews of books I have, overall, enjoyed and would recommend to others. But there is also a strong argument that time and money are, for most readers, in short supply and a timely warning from a skilled reviewer is a valuable service. Francine Prose and Zoe Heller take up the debate on whether to just ignore bad books in the New York Times books section this week.