Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The Reader, the Reviewer and the Review

My expectations of christian fiction are extremely low. Whenever I have delved in to this area I've been disappointed. Not that it's a genre I've spent a great deal of time in, generally I'm stuck in the Veggie Tales section of the christian bookshop and have more than enough general fiction in my collection to keep me going for several years.

gratuitous pic of some of my favourite books
Many years ago I had a short-lived career as a reviewer of christian fiction for a christian magazine. I was so excited when my first free 'review copy' arrived in the post. I opened the newly published title with my pen poised, ready to critique. I envisaged copying down favourite quotes, highlighting areas of strength and weakness, outlining the development of plot and characters, stressing reasons for the reader to love this book.

It was a shock to find, with a growing sense of dismay, characters that were hideously caricatured, ridiculous plot lines and trite issues. The writing was woeful and I was reeling at the groan-out-loud badness of it all. There was a romantic liaison - it was cringe-worthy. I didn't know whether to laugh hysterically or cry hysterically. I was further horrified to discover this book was only the first in a planned series. How on earth to review such a story?

I did my best. I wasn't unduly harsh of the shortcomings. I agonised over the brief positives and tried to be objectively fair about what the book seemed to be trying to achieve. I couldn't in good conscience recommend the book to anyone, but I thought I gave enough information for the reader to make their own informed decision.

"Thank you for your review. Unfortunately it does not meet our criteria for publication, and we will not be in need of your services again."
The voice on the other end of the phone was measured and sure. I was a stumbling mess. "Set criteria? I tried to give an honest critique. Can you explain my shortcomings, so I can try again? (Seemed an ironic question to be asking, in the light of the obvious shortcomings of the book..pity the author hadn't asked anyone the same thing..)
"No, we found your review to be overly critical. It is not our practice to publish negative reviews."
Right. Okay then. Um, thanks.

I don't know about you, but when I read a review, I want honesty. I expect an objective opinion. I don't want a glorified press release that's been written by the author's mother (or more likely, the author). I want to know strengths and weaknesses and I expect fairness. Is this too much to ask?

If you're interested in the issue of reviews, and their role in the current literary environment - this is worth a look: http://www.booksellerandpublisher.com.au/DetailPage.aspx?type=featureitem&ID=24566

So it was with a sense of joyous surprise that I came across an example of christian fiction that ticked all my criteria for a great read (whether christian or not). The story flowed and the characters were well-rounded and believable. The social and personal issues were dealt with realistically, sensitively and well. There was pathos, warmth and humour in the writing.

The central character, Amy Gallagher, is a frustrated writer who struggles to find her place in the world. She deals with loss and love, friendship and pain. Her life currently seems characterised by rejection. Her Christianity is not a fix-it for her problems. Nor does it provide her with trite answers to the complexities of life. Yet she holds on to it. It is a solid base that anchors her. Her journey is not world-beating stuff, but it feels real. I know this description sounds NOTHING like my own life (hahahahahahahaha), but these characters, funnily enough, felt like people I knew.

The cover is gorgeous. Ill state the obvious, that covers don't reflect the quality of the writing. But this cover is so lovely I want to frame it and hang it on my wall. Maybe it's not a coincidence then that the author, Bethany Pierce is also an artist as well as a writer. (sigh, I'm trying to be happy for her, really I am...)

If you're looking for a good read this holiday, give it a try. I'd love to know what you think..


http://www.bethanypierce.com/
I went back to Koorong to buy another copy and was told the book is now out of print. It was only published in 2010! The ebook version is on their website $5.50! But you won't be able to frame the cover.
If you'd like a copy for FREE from me, make a comment - I'll let you know if it meets my criteria :-)

2 comments:

  1. Please could I borrow it?
    Kat

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  2. You can keep a copy if you like it Kat!
    Would love to hear what you think of it. Not sure I've found anyone who enjoyed it as much as me, yet!
    SBDx

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