Rachel Cooke: It’s the Author Photo, Not the Book

Rachel Cooke writes: “It wasn’t the hype that turned me off, nor the stories about how she’d been ignored as a novelist for years (Kevin was published by the small independent publisher, Serpent’s Tail); it was more that whenever she appeared in the newspapers, she seemed to be so… belligerent. Her book reviews were bordering on the vicious and in her byline picture, she wore a sleeveless denim shirt and matching frown that made me think I wouldn’t want to meet her late at night in a dark alley.”

When I talked with Lionel Shriver for an hour last month, I didn’t find her belligerent at all. She just doesn’t suffer fools gladly and is unafraid to speak her mind. I found her to be sharp, acerbic, and among one of the most fascinating people I’ve talked with this year. And I should also note that she answered every provocative question I put to her, even some of the half-baked ones.

Even so, I’m appalled that Shriver’s looks or manner would have any bearing upon whether her novel is any good. I don’t see book critics applying this kind of criteria to men. Why then should they dwell upon what an author photo has to do with an author’s work?

Then again, Rachel Cooke is the same person who was content to sling generalizations about bloggers. That Cooke is more willing to devote two paragraphs to being “Lionel Shriver’s number one fan” instead of offering specific examples on why The Post-Birthday World is an “unreadably plodding and obscure novel” says more about Cooke’s vapid literary standards than any sufficiently critical take on the book. If this is the kind of flimsy flummery that Cooke wishes to spew into the world, then she should be writing for Metro instead of The Observer.

(via Bill Peschel)

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One Comment

  1. Observer book reviews are meant as entertainment, and Rachel Cooke wrote her review of Shriver’s book with that in mind. If you’ve read any of Shriver’s own reviews (see the whopper she wrote for Norman Mailer’s new book), you’d realize she approaches reviewing the same way. Her reviews are hilarious. Book reviews in the popular press shouldn’t be held to the same rigorous standards as academic criticism. As Shriver herself points out, in her recent Telegraph article about being a reviewer, reviews don’t really matter anyway.

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