On Reviews

scalesPluto’s Gate has just received its first ‘professional’ review in the Montreal Review of Books. It was a great review, meticulously fair where it needed to be, genuinely complimentary at other points. (The reviewer overcomes her fear that the novel will turn into a hipster narrative, with the compliment that  she “found [herself] increasingly wrapped up in the narrative,” and “[Pluto and Percy’s] love story is strangely compelling, with comic relief brought by the occasional clash of culture between a present-day woman and a centuries-old god”).

Not all reviews are so fair, nor so kind.

Many writers ignore their critics, something I applaud them for.  Undoubtedly I am too earnest for such tactics. I try to glean everything I can from criticism.

Beyond that, a very important discussion has been taking in Canadian literature of late about the nature of criticism in Canada. As a student of literature and criticism I’d been warned that CanLit critics were the worst of the bunch: bitchy, catty, mean.

More recently, a discussion has been brewing around the fact that criticism in this country is male-dominated, with far less literature written by women being reviewed – and only a fraction of those books receiving what many would deem a ‘fair’ review.  This is not to say that unfair reviews are solely the domain of men.

Nonetheless, having been on the receiving end of at least one unfair review in my career, I fervently agree that this is a very important discussion, one that I hope has only just begun. And I applaud the many male writers and reviewers who have joined their female counterparts in looking more closely at this terrible culture (in particular, Jon Paul Fiorentino’s article, “Sexism and Silence in the Literary Community” comes to mind).

It shouldn’t matter, but the MRB  for Pluto’s Gate was written by a woman. And although she didn’t need to be, clearly she knows something of the original mythology I was “reinventing,” which gives her a wider perspective by which to judge the merit of the novel.

I was lucky in this respect – but luckier still that this reviewer believed in treating her subject matter with respect – something I wish for all writers everywhere.


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