Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Gushing We Will Go

One Minute Books Reviews -- by way of The Wooden Spoon -- offers the following:

So many book reviews are so overheated, you almost need to handle them with asbestos tongs. Gail Pool gives examples of the review inflation in her recent Faint Praise:

“ . .. how can I believe the praise [in reviews] when there’s so much of it and so much of it is over the top? On a single Sunday book page, Boston Globe reviewers declare that Michael Ondaatje, in Anil’s Ghost, has created ‘a novel of exquisite refractions and angles: gorgeous but circumspect,’ that Rupert Thomson’s The Book of Revelation has ‘that rightness that makes a work of art,’ that Leonard Michael’s Girl with a Monkey is ‘uncompromising fiction. … They hardly make it like that anymore,’ and that Zadie Smith, in White Teeth, has ‘changed literature’s future.’ The Washington Post Book World, reviewing Rick Moody’s memoir, says that its ‘timeless exploration of the issues that are essential to what it means to be an American makes it likely that The Black Veil will take its place among classic American memoirs’; Boston Book Review proclaims that Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang, has ‘permanently extended the range of the English language’; …

It's good to be reminded this kind of piffle exists, if only to caution oneself against falling victim to it. I've often thought that a good rule of thumb is to try as well as possible to make a review blurb-free, which isn't always possible, as all of us do occasionally stumble on a good book.

At least two of the books on display here aren't as good as the claims made for it, but they aren't bad. The Book of Revelation is about a guy who supposedly gets kidnapped and raped by some kind of feminist cult; I say supposedly because by the end it's one of those untrustworthy narrator deals where you can't be entirely sure what's up. I hope I didn't call it a work of art, as I remember it as a fervid literary wet dream. Peter Carey's Ned Kelly book was pretty good, too, and reminded me a lot of Faulkner, who may have more of a claim on extended the range of the language, although it's not the first thing I think about him.

No comments: