Paul Kearney didn’t like my review of The Ten Thousand. Shock, I know. I felt like I fairly judged the novel, weighing its pros and cons in an objective and honest way. Kearney, however, had a different problem.
If you don’t read a book to the end, you aren’t in a position to review it. Period.
Erm. Alright, I didn’t realize that an opinion couldn’t coalesce until the last page had been turned, but, well… okay.
Graeme, from Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review responded with:
What makes a review a review? Aidan’s basically telling us what he thought about what he read, even though he didn’t make it to the end. He can’t say much, if anything, about the book as a whole (for obvious reasons!) but I’d say he’s in as good a position as anyone else to comment on what he did read. Does that count as a review though? Kinda, I thinkâ€¦
Wait. Yeah, what he said!
To be honest, though, I expected to see some critics rear their heads when it came to light that I hadn’t actually finished The Ten Thousand and still decided to write a review about it. In fact, I debated with myself for quite some time whether I even would write the review, knowing that the situation was a bit of an ethical dilemma. In the end, though, I knew that, whether I had finished the novel or not, I had to write the review.
“Why,” you ask?
Several months ago I was in a similar position. I had just worked on an interview with Michael Swanwick and found him to be a gracious and hard working fellow, nice enough to personally send me a copy of his newest novel, The Dragons of Babel. When the book arrived I was excited to dive into it and see what all the fuss was about â€“ it seemed right up my alley. But then a problem reared its ugly head…. I was about a third of the way through the novel when it dawned on me that I just wasn’t connecting with the story and was having to make a point of picking up the novel and reading it, instead of eagerly anticipating each moment I’d have with it. The Dragons of Babel just wasn’t for me.
I struggled with the idea of writing a review for The Dragons of Babel. Was I qualified to give one? Was it unfair to Mr. Swanwick’s kindness in sending me a free copy of the novel? Was it fair to my readers? In the end, I decided not to write that review, and I’ve regretted it ever since.
There comes a time in a novel, when I feel that I know whether or not I’m going to like it. It’s a moving target, each novel is different, but I often find that my opinion of a novel rarely changes between the halfway mark and the very end. Sure, the end could be fantastic (or terrible), but for the sake of objectivism, I have to look at a novel as a whole when it comes time to review it, and that’s where I think Kearney’s argument has a flaw.
Graeme asks, ‘What makes a review a review?’ and gives an answer that I more or less agree with. In my opinion, a reviewer succeeds at their craft when they are able to scribe a review that honestly and accurately conveys the feelings and emotions they experienced while reading a novel. To that end, I feel that any honest reviews are all equally valid, regardless of whether someone’s made it 1/3 of the way, 1/2 of the way or all the way through a novel. It’s equally important for a reviewer to let readers know why they didn’t finish a novel as it is to scream to the world about a novel they absolutely adored. Are my opinions, which I feel I fairly backed up in my review, any less honest or valid for having not finished the novel?
Of course, I made sure to state at the beginning of the review that I hadn’t finished the novel, and if a reviewer were to not do so, trying to pass off as having read the entire thing, then we’d run into some problems. Pat (at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist) wrote a similar piece while he was travelling overseas of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and though he called it something else, it was clearly a review of a novel he couldn’t finish. I was grateful for the honesty (and not only because it mirrored my own opinion of the novel) and didn’t begrudge him one bit for not finishing the novel. This ‘review’ created quite a stir and lead to some terrific discussion in the comments section of the post.
When I decided to put down The Ten Thousand for good, I struggled once again about whether to write the review or not. Paul’s a great guy, Solaris (the publisher) has been very supportive of me, and I would be the first person to write a review of the novel that wasn’t glowing. In the end, however, it wasn’t much of a decision. I remembered how I felt about the missed opportunity I had with my review for The Dragons of Babel and knew I couldn’t make the same mistake twice. I may not have finished the novel, but I certainly felt that I had well founded, honest opinions of what I did read; and to me that was enough to justify it. I knew, however, that my review of The Ten Thousand would have to be my most honest, most well thought out review yet, as proof that I could qualify the opinions expressed.
Besides Paul’s understandable reaction, I was pleasently surprised to find that most of my readers appreciated the review, even those who had read the novel and disagreed with the opinions I put forth. In a day and age where bloggers are criticized for loving everything put before them, I felt that hiding my opinion would be as dishonest as writing a falsely positive review. As I said at the end of my review, everyone’s got opinions, but as long as we all stay honest, then that can only be a good thing.