Just recently I've been reading a book that became more and more of a challenge to finish. And not only do I review each book I read, but this one was also meant to be reviewed from the get-go. But how to go about saying that out of five stars you can only give approximately two?
The thing is, it's easy to find fault with works that aren't your own. You have distance and a particular taste or expectations that might not be met. But I think that in reviewing a book you don't like, you have to be able to explain why it only gets two out of five stars, or why not one out of five or the safe three out of five (not bad, not good). I've tried my best to support my argument in a way that, hopefully, isn't offensive to the author. I can't imagine how long it took her to write the entire novel - I only know a little of what that is like - or what she poured into it. And after all, she did get her book published.
I believe I rewrote and edited my review about six times. I wanted to be concise, explaining why I didn't like the book without bashing it. And even though the review has been approved, I do feel a little stuck in Apology Mode right now. Even though I don't have to be. My book review is my personal opinion, and yet...
The thing is, I didn't dislike the book "just because". I have a list of reasons that I can support with samples from the text. If I simply didn't like the genre or the tone of voice, I would have said so. But in this case, there was just a lot about the text itself that kept bothering me while I was reading. Things that came between me and the story, 'kicking me out' if I did manage to walk around that particular village for a second.
I'll blog about this magical thing called Suspension of Disbelief some other time, but in short, that was the main reason for not being able to give a very favourable review. Not only was the punctuation awful, but the characters were at times illogical, the dialogue was flawed and as a reader I don't like being told a number of (sometimes unnecessary) details over and over again.
And now I also understand better what they mean when they say "show, don't tell". This book was full of "telling" - inner monologues, thoughts, flashbacks, letters. People commenting on their own looks by staring in a mirror (just so I'd know they were actually quite gorgeous or 56 years old or tired-looking). People telling each other what has happened - even though I already read about it - and telling me how they feel about those things (in case I'd missed it the first time). Lawyers providing clients with a status update that includes details no lawyer would include in such a letter. And so on. And so forth.
And so, with a sigh here, a deep breath there and approximately six edits, I've typed up what I believe isn't a bad review, just an honest one.
Image: A cup crafted from the pages of Anne Rice's Pandora. Not necessarily to show how awful the reviewer thought the book, but because she's a paper artist (and she bought the book second-hand in order to do this - she could've picked up any random title, and she did bother to read it first).