Hot on the heels of Michiko slamming Banville into the ground (with an unusual silence from certain quarters), Notes on Non-Camp points to this profile, which claims Michiko to be “the most feared book critic in the world.” More feared than Dale Peck? Or James Wood covering a “hysterical realism” novel? I think the real question here is whether Michiko Kaukutani, who has veered too frequently into distressing fictional affectations of late (is Michiko’s fury the mark of an aspiring novelist?), is a critic worth her salt anymore. Is it really valid criticism for a writer to cling to safe dichotomies (“style over story,” “linguistic pyrotechnics over felt emotion”) while spending most of a review summarizing a book rather than discussing its literary worth? If Michiko found Banville irritating, that’s fine. If she feels that she was alienated from Banville’s story, that’s fine. But it’s simply not enough to offer these sentiments without supportive examples, much less refusing to make an effort to discern the meaning within the text. That’s the least any reviewer can do when approaching a work of art. And given that the New York Times offers a book reviewing clime in which fiction has devolved from an enduring presence to some charming summer-stock production that you attend simply because a relative is in the show, it seems extremely strange to me that Michiko’s generalizations are continually accepted and indeed “feared” by authors and the publishing industry alike.
© 2005, Edward Champion. All rights reserved.