Monday, March 15, 2010

An unconventional review of Too Many Magpies

Jim Murdoch writes an unconventional review of Too Many Magpies on his blog The Truth About Lies. Instead of using the conventional approach, he chose to write a kind of diary of the reading process as he read the book, and the result is interesting - to me, anyway, as the writer. When you write, you are constantly thinking about the effect on your readers - what will they think here? Will this rack the tension up nicely, or just confuse? Will they remember it when they need to later? etc etc., so it's very interesting to hear this in such detail from a reader, and most unusual: conventional reviews are written with hindsight which glosses over such reading experiences.

He begins reading late at night, and in the early hours records his impressions of the book's non-linear beginning, which it seems he did have some problems with (damn!), and then, sitting down to write again at lunchtime next day writes this: Thinking back the overall feeling I've got from this book is of a story coming into focus - exactly the impression I was aiming to achieve (hooray!), since the book is about looking at the complexities of things and meanings which are often missed. He shares his feelings at the cliff-hangers: Now, what the hell does that mean? and then when he takes the book up again: Ah, so that is what she means!
Well, I'm not so sure that in the end he's overboard about the book's glancing nature - he seems a man who likes the concrete: he has a problem with the female narrator's 'restlessness' as he puts it, and the character he really warms to is the baby, who stands in the novel for the sensually simple which the narrator yearns for but knows is not the whole story. However he calls the book 'beautifully written' and recommends it, I'm very pleased to say. And I appreciate greatly the trouble and thought Jim puts into his reviews - linking even to web examples of the scientific definitions (eg 'Hormones' and 'Cholesterol') which the narrator feels can be used to gloss over the complex truths.


Jim Murdoch said...

As anyone who reads my site regularly will be able to tell you, Elizabeth, I take my reviews very seriously. I’m well aware of the damage a thoughtless review can do and I have no time for self-aggrandisement; I hate reviewers who love the sound of their own voices. That said I’m well aware I need to entertain and am always looking for new and interesting ways to keep my readers’ attentions. This approach to reviewing your book came very naturally. I’ve written several reviews since but never felt the need to try and do the same. It worked for your book though.

It’s balancing the subjective and the objective that’s hard. I know from reading other reviews online that others bonded with the lead where I didn’t. Well, that’s why no one should make a judgement based on just one review. You are probably right about my preference for the concrete over the abstract. I actually cope fine with the abstract as long as it’s in a concrete setting.

The bottom line is that this is a lot better book than some I’ve read of late. It has a story but it’s not been enough for you to tell that story. How a story is told is clearly important to you. It is to me.

So please pencil me in for a review copy of your next book. I’ll be happy to oblige.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Well, I'm very grateful, Jim. I really do think there are few reviewers who put in as much thought and effort as you do. Thank you so much.

Rachel Fenton said...

I be that regular follower of Jim's blog! I enjoyed the review and what I thought was particularly interesting about it was that, to me, it made the book all the more appealing. Here was no abstract tantalising but concrete reasons to read the book and prove or disprove the opinions.

Elizabeth Baines said...

It's great, Rachel, that you think it has that effect. Brilliant and generous reviewing!