Friday, 7 August 2015

Let's hear it for reviewers!

It's not the first thing you think of when you put down a book you've enjoyed reading.  I'm the first to admit that before I published my first book I'd never left a review on Amazon or anywhere else.  I'd tell my friends if I liked something enough, and they'd probably forget the title or the author, or both. Reviews are a more permanent record of a reader's reactions - for better or for worse!

Needless to say, I always make the effort to leave a balanced review these days.

I'm actually reading 'The Apple Yard' at the moment, alongside 'The Constant Gardener'.  I looked at a couple of reviews for both of these last night.  Curiosity, I suppose.  The first is a thriller, top ten bestseller (so it states on the cover), by Louise Doughty.  The second, a classic by John le Carre.  Both have a fair percentage of one-star reviews with comments surprisingly similar: 'sorry I paid money for this book'  'boring' 'unbelievable'.  My favourite: 'John le Carre has lost it.'

I reminded myself that the star rating used by Amazon ranges from 'I hate it' to 'I love it'.  Fair enough. If you need to hate something, I suppose a book is a harmless target for your venom.  Some of the reviews are articulate and make valid points, some are flippant, some downright rude.  What really does intrigue me is how someone can be so totally negative about a book.  How they can hate it so completely.  Perhaps the ending is a let down, but surely there are passages they have enjoyed, characters they have empathised with to some extent?

The Apple Yard is going passably well.  I do agree that the protagonist and her lover are rather cold fish, but there is tension to the plot and a solid grounding in the value of mediocrity in everyday life and relationships.  We can't all be thoroughly beautiful beings leading extraordinary lives all of the time.  I like the ordinariness of the woman who feels good about her freshly washed hair and her new, rather sexy boots that make her feel less middle-aged.  If the ending is 'disappointing' and the affair 'unbelievable' I won't mind that much.  After all, we all look for an ending that is largely unattainable. We want definitive, we think.  We're not sure about an 'open-ending'.  Endings should perhaps be multiple...  Choose the one you like best.

In my view, the Constant Gardener is a gem of a book in terms of beautifully written prose and totally engaging characters, some petty, some naive, some heroic.  Sandy is a triumph of smug bigotry and I cringe when he gives himself away so utterly as a man who has no idea of how much others despise and deride him. There is masterful use of irony, and imagery which is both surprising and which resonates so precisely it can interrupt your reading while you savour its effect.  The plot is secondary for me, although that's not to say I dislike the action.

The review system is perhaps a little too 'throw-away' for the average reader, who is, in Amazon's eyes, a customer.  And, as we all know (except if, like me, you live in France...), the customer is king.  If he wants to complain, let him.  If he wants to offer a wholly negative point of view, that's his prerogative. And long may it be so!

One-star reviews are only hurtful to the author.  But, the odd jolt can be beneficial in many ways.  I have to mention one I received for 'One Summer in France'  It read simply: To stupid.  Made me laugh for ages.

Anyway, I've had my say!  I started this post with the intention of directing as many people as possible to a couple of new reviews of my recently revised novel, 'The Undertaker's Son'.  I'm grateful for such support and hope that it will encourage people to download and enjoy (at least some of) my book.  To make the decision easier, I've made it free on 7th and 8th August.  Obviously, if you would like to give your personal and honest opinions in a short review I would be happy to read and digest them.

With special thanks to Rosie Amber and her fabulous book review team: Rosie Amber

Here's the link to Alison Williams' review:  Review of 'The Undertaker's Son'

My book is also featured on Olga Nunez Miret's blog today: Review of 'The Undertaker's Son'

Thank you for visiting my blog!  Comments welcome.