Nailing a bad book
In a recent discussion of what makes a good or bad negative review of a book, Mr. Michael Scott Joseph had this to say. I've read it in the hopes of discovering if my recent negative review of Inkspell falls into the "good" or "bad" category. It finally posted, by the way. Let the neggies begin!
"Often bad negative reviews will shout over the strengths of a book, either ignoring them in order to complain about the lack of something the reviewer would have preferred to find, or misrepresenting a book's strength as a weak version of something else. I think one attribute of a good negative review might be the reviewer's effective description of what the author has valued or where s/he's put the work in. I may be revealing my own flawed perceptions, but I do not believe that authors write according to an index of standards. Rather, standards emerge from powerful texts. Notions of subtext, parallel structure, voice, diction, phrasing, metaphor, vivid characters, etc., etc. emerge from texts whose distinctiveness are so
great because they do something original really well. Texts that do a good job of touching the bases, which, essentially, hack a particular style or a contemporary style, don't really qualify as good texts, even though one can blurb them really easily. But a memorable text might succeed even if it does only one or two things really well, even though, conversely, one can dismiss it really easily, even memorably. It's important for a reviewer writing a negative review to allow the
reader to know what the author has tried to make succeed, I think, even if it's only to say, X does a great job of hacking Russell Hoban's wry, farcical, wit, or something along those lines."