A long, long time ago, it seems, I ventured to dip a toe in the waters of reviewing. I found that water very cold.
When I came to review a book, ‘Tales from the Arena: Opening Gambit’ by Elizabeth Schechter, there was no problem. I’d encountered her writing before in a discussion/critiquing list and knew its quality. It was and is an excellent book, and that her writing enabled me to enjoy a book that was a little outside my own personal comfort zone is testimony to her abilities. Five stars, mega applause for a great writer, no problem.
Actually that’s the second time she’s achieved that. If you haven’t read her ‘Princes of Air’, which I only read in chapters on the same discussion list, I can strongly commend it.
But then I downloaded a book by a different author, an author I had no previous experience of, but who seemed to receive a lot of quite flattering attention from others. I read it, but with difficulty. I found it, frankly, awful – not because of the story,which was acceptable, but because it appeared to me to have never been edited by anyone who knew what they were doing. I fumbled and stumbled through endless typos and disconcerting errors.
So I couldn’t review it without to some extent damning it, and having long ago experienced what it is like to have a book damned by a critic whose motive was nothing other than ‘payback’ for an imagined slight, I decided not to take the risk of creating potentially another vengeful enemy.
Anyhow, I’m back, and starting over (in any number of different ways), but this time I’m following the lead of one or two clever people I have encountered. If I read anything that I believe merits less than a three star rating I’m not going to review it.
I have no such difficulty with the most recent book I have finished, which is The Bet by Vivienne Tuffnell.
I encountered Vivienne in a Facebook discussion, read her comments, and something in her tone or her way of writing made me think ‘I bet this lady’s work is interesting’. And I’d gathered, too, that this was not an erotic novel and might even prove, like Elizabeth’s work, a little outside my comfort zone.
It proved to be so, but yet again to be so powerful, so insightful and magnetic that I simply couldn’t put it down and never wanted to. It is a novel – and a fine novel – about loss and pain, about the humanity and inhumanity amid which we most of us actually live our lives – I doubt anyone who reads this will not have met ‘Aunt Sophie’.
I’m repeating words I’ve posted elsewhere, but the truth remains that it is a book full of characters so economically, succinctly, yet beautifully drawn that it is hard to remember that they are only characters in a story and not people we have met and known.
It is, in my belief, a genuinely great book and, not least since it costs as much as cup of coffee at most, I strongly recommend you read it.