Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The perils of being honest

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I’d like to write on one of the most nerve-wracking elements of getting published: the reviews.

I’ve been reviewing books for awhile now, and I must admit, publishing a novel in the interim does change one’s perspective. I’m not reviewing anonymous authors anymore; I’m reviewing the work of peers. It may not seem like much, really, but trashing another person’s work does leave one open for retaliation in kind. Am I pulling my punches for fear of retribution? If I tick off a literary heavyweight, can I assume a reaction of near-Godfather-like proportions? Will I wake up with a copy of my next novel next to me in bed, its cover ripped off, its ink spilling out over the sheets? I don’t walk around with the huge cohones of Stephen Marche, ticking off the establishment. No matter how much of a point Stephen has, I could never take on the esteemed godfathers-and-mothers of CanLit. I like my thumbs, I’ve grown attached to my thumbs, and I never want to part from my thumbs.

So, when I review, I like to like of myself as always looking for the good. Not that I have ever gone out of my way to trash another person’s work in a review. I’ve been fairly lucky in being allowed to review some high-quality work, and in those instances where I feel the novelist has failed, I usually try to find at least one nice thing to say. I’ll be honest, but I’m not going to be a jerk about it. But honest I am, and none of that anonymous tripe here; I put my name to each review.

I ask, because of a conundrum that has arisen. I have recently finished reading for review an upcoming work by an established author (no names here). This author has won awards, has an established career, and is highly regarded. Clearly this work is of esteemed pedigree. The novel under question rubs me all kinds of wrong.

I faced a similar conundrum with Paulo Coelho’s novel Eleven Minutes (I think I’m on fairly safe ground in saying I will never meet the Brazilian author, and he isn’t exactly suffering for money, so I don’t feel too bad about mentioning his name). Coelho has a long literary career, accolades up the wazoo, and a fan base I would willingly give a limb for. Despite this set-up, Eleven Minutes was absolutely awful, one of the most tiresome stories I’ve ever slogged my way through. But I doubted myself; maybe I was not the intended audience. Coelho wrote a novel about sex from a women’s perspective, and maybe, maybe I was just simply the wrong gender. But I gave the book to my partner, and she confirmed my hypothesis. “This is really dumb,” I believe were her exact words. Consensus won out, and the review went ahead as planned.

A similar problem confronts me now. My head says I’m right, that this novel is irritating and mundane, but my heart thinks I missed the point. Quite frankly, this is not a novel written for men. It is deeply feminine in tone and (I think) intended audience. It is reaching for a part of me that does not exist. But does this mean I’m not fit to review it at all? Or is a novel meant for mass consumption fair game for all?

So, how do I review it? The review will come, I have promises to keep, but the doubt will remain. All I have is my personal judgment which says that this is not at all good.

Am I overreacting?

Nah. Let the chips fall, whatever that means. Being a reviewer means standing by your convictions, and I will not lie. I just hope I don’t run into the author in the near future.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Corey Redekop

Corey Redekop, author of the critically acclaimed novel Shelf Monkey, is a librarian and freelance writer. He lives in Thompson, Manitoba.

Go to Corey Redekop’s Author Page