I don’t review books – at least not in any sort of formal way. I’ve never really felt qualified – although of course literally anyone can have an opinion on anything, and aren’t we all aware of it…?
I have an opinion, for example, about the recent Sarah Waters epic, The Paying Guests. Here it is: A wonderful, extraordinary novel in many, many ways. Some of the writing truly dazzles; some of her sentences give a literal, physical pleasure – so much so that some paragraphs I’ve read over and over for the sheer pleasure of how they feel, how they cascade, how gorgeously they unfurl in my brain and on my tongue. Her characters are fleshy and vital, her settings are thick with detail and atmosphere. She’s clever, supremely gifted, a brilliant, brilliant writer. But dear God, she don’t half go on. With a thin plot that’s ponderous, over-written, excruciatingly slow and drawn-out at its hard-reached climax, The Paying Guests is more than twice as long as it should be, and far from leaving me satisfied and pleasantly emotional, at the closing of the final page all I felt was sheer bloody relief the damn thing was over.
There we go. Just my opinion. I still love her and will continue to read everything she writes.
I followed the Paying Guests with The Miniaturist. And this was the best possible move. I felt cerebrally alive again. Astonishing writing. Jessie Burton deserves every accolade and elevation possible. There are sentences which make me stop in my tracks; her characters arrive fully-formed and in-your-face; the sense of dread she creates is exquisite, and, most impressive for me, her ability to immerse me into a foreign land in a foreign time and not overtly display all her impeccable research (a la Sebastian Faulks) is truly magnificent and I love her for it. Yes, the major twists were pretty obvious from half a mile away, but that didn’t bother me. She’s created an intensely claustrophobic, visceral, authentic world. No doubt the screen play is already underway and gazillions of pounds will be hers. Love you, Jessie.
And now reviews of The Best British Short Story 2017 are popping up over the web. It’s very interesting reading the opinions of strangers – and quite humbling too. People take the time and effort to take your work seriously and offer their thoughts. Of course writers want ‘good’ reviews, want praise, want applause. But that means nothing if there isn’t some sort of understanding of the work, some effort to connect with the story being told.
My story gets a mention in a couple of reviews: one is full of praise, the other not so. It’s fascinating. For the exact reason one reviewer liked it, another didn’t. I’m thrilled by both opinions.
And of course, if you feel the urge to offer your opinion on anything you read here, please go ahead… x