Sunday, 9 October 2011

Sunday Supplement: On reviews as short stories

Almost a year ago I decided to try a new approach to book reviewing. I was tired with the same old way I talked about books, and bored of writing reviews. I still wanted to have the end product to look back on and revisit as an aide memoir, but I didn't want to write them. And so, the book review as a short story was born, a way to share the experience of reading rather than the technical qualities of the book; to celebrate the effect of a book, without sounding glib or too heartfelt.

I wrote two. One, on In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut I felt was a general success, the second, The Finkler Question, less so. And then I hit a wall and didn't write another for 10 months. Or rather, I intermittently played around with one, trying to find a way to chisel out a finished piece from a quarry.

I had great hopes for another review, of Geoff Dyer's Out of Sheer Rage. It was a perfect fit, a review about the experience of reading a book about the experience of writing a book. It was to be a sort of manifesto for the style of review I wanted to develop. There was a metaphor I came up with, as I walked home one day, that summed it all up. I promised I'd remember it but then lost my train of thought and spent months failing to to recapture it.

And with those failures I lost the impetus. I fell back into

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I completed the review of Rain that had taken months to write. And I was delighted and amazed by the response. So now I'm right back in the mix, keen and committed to develop the idea further. But that also means I'm right back in the quagmire of where to go next. The Geoff Dyer is half written, but without that metaphor I've lost it feels unfinished.

And there's a structural problem I can't resolve that is holding me back. Writing a review in the form of short story is all very well when I have a strong response to a book, or when the experience of reading it is significant and story worthy. But there are only certain books that are like that. What I need to work out is how to use the story format, which is all about experience, to write about books where the experience is less than amazing. I just can't find a way to do it.

If anyone out there has any ideas or advice, I'd really appreciate it. In the meantime, I think I'll work on the Geoff Dyer one some more.

As they say...if at first you don't succeed...


Louise said...

What a great idea. Sometimes I worry that all my reviews are a bit "samey" but not sure that I have the talent or patience to try this approach, but it's certainly given me something to think about to mix things up a bit...

Sam Ruddock said...

Thanks Louise. I have to say, I don't think I have the talent to make this work either! It is proving a real challenge to work out exactly ho to do most of them. I recently spent three days trying to write a short story review for 1Q84, only to decide that it didn't work and resorting to a standard review instead! I'm very good at making resolutions, not so good at following them through!