Sunday, November 01, 2009


Some time ago I prepared a blog post that complained about misleading blurbs and people writing reviews about books they did not seem to have read, or know anything about. I exclude our Friend Feed community from any criticism on these grounds, their reviews are always an inspiration to this amateur.
I decided to dump my post when I realised that the book I was going to use as my prime example was written by a charming author, who was probably not responsible for the misleading blurb that appeared on the cover of her book, or the wide variation in quality of the reviews. Many of these reviews sensibly mentioned the flaws in the book, but others made ludicrous comparisons with well known authors, and even a cinematic masterpiece.
I did not want to seem mean spirited and thankfully the book in question was not shortlisted for any awards.

We drove back from North Devon yesterday afternoon and I opened my copy of the Daily Telegraph to read a review of Philip Kerr's If The Dead Rise Not that was slightly surprising. I thought I would post a rebuttal to this "review" but decided what was the point, and that really no one cares any more about basic standards of accuracy even in a newspaper such as the Telegraph.
After all BBC TV and radio had informed me over the past year or two that:

Quisling was Swedish. He was Norwegian.
Death Valley is in Nevada. It is in California.
And last week that Wallander is a Dutch detective.

I though who cares, and then I turned over to read this in the TV planner, the week's best films:

Chariots of Fire [1981]
The film that so cleaned up at the Oscars that writer Colin Welland uttered the ill-advised words "The British are coming" makes the racing fortunes of two English runners at the 1924 Olympics seem as inspiring as........."

Does anyone read this stuff before it is published?
Surely someone has to care a little, and so I decided to go ahead with my analysis of the Telegraph review of Philip Kerr's prize winning book.
[To be continued]


Blogger Philip Amos said...

Oh, Norman, it is difficult to give up, I find, but I am myself close to achieving that goal. I've commented passim that I ditched book reviews regardless of medium, other than those issuing from a very few sources, long ago. What finally spurred me to do so was a spate of stunning assertions on blogs hither and yon that reviews should contain nothing negative. That had me reeling and that was the end of it.

But apart from that, consider that an eminent music blogger and I were both admonished by the Editor of the Guardian a while back for being too hard on that paper's classical music critic. Said critic, also a blogger, BBC presenter and freelance journalist who has a doctorate in music (well, sort of -- it's from Southampton), finally sent us and quite a few others over the edge by writing that Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries was perfectly suited to the movie Apocalypse Now because that music depicts the Valkyries swooping around the world killing warriors. That is breathtaking ignorance pure and simple, ignorance of Wagner's Die Walkure and of Norse mythology as great as my own of Norwegian Death Metal. No -- greater. I pluck this one example out of the daily grind because it is typical of what I, at least, have come to expect these days as a matter of routine. Does anyone care? Not many, I think.

I wrote a comment recently on the misrepresentation on covers of Arturo Perez-Reverte's The Nautical Chart. Apart from his three magnificent works of crime fiction, APR has written many fine novels of adventure -- not my thing, but I have sampled, and they are perfect for the literary nosebags of those who miss Dumas. The Nautical Chart, a tale of lost treasure and romance, is one such. The first British edition of that book described it as a novel of adventure -- spot on. But two others I've seen called it respectively a novel of suspense and a mystery, one trying ludicrously to hint at a likeness to The Flanders Panel. Nonsense. No one commented on this, but we all encounter it constantly, for to complain is to wail in the wilderness, almost alone, unheard by publishers. For my pert, I now unfailingly ignore the dubious enticements of covers, quotes, blurbs, synopses, the lot.

And so, forget book reviews. And ignore, if you know your music and you value your sanity, the classical music critics in the MSM -- thank God, the classical bloggers are a fine lot, and the best are resisting the blandishments of the Beeb, CD production companies, publishers, MSM papers, Interaction London, et al., to abandon their independence. It doesn't leave much, but it does, of course, leave us our own judgement. I mean, really, two of the 'culture' bloggers for the Telegraph are Petroc Trelawney and Claus von Bulow!!! From such as these we hear of books and music, God help us. Not exactly that great music critic and Wagnerite, George Bernard Shaw, is it? Neville Cardus? Cyril Connolly? James Agate? Kenneth Tynan? Edward Greenfield? Harry Keating? Edmund Crispin? No, we have none of these now, none who could hold the candle to them.

6:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you brought up the notion of accuracy!!! I care about that kind of thing a lot, and especially where newspapers are concerned. There are a group of us out there who do care, and who are glad you mentioned this.

7:14 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Philip for your comments. I too wanted to give up and not read or write any thing negative but the review is so bizarre I am forced to review the review.
Neville Cardus on music and cricket what a wonderful combination and what a writer.

"P.B.H.May also batted as an England cricketer and an England captain should-with ease and calm and handsome poise."

Only a short sentence but with wonderful economy of words he paints a picture of a bygone age and a superb cricketer.

7:24 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Margot. It is nice to know we are not alone.

9:43 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Margot. It is nice to know we are not alone.

9:43 AM  

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