Rosanne Dingli

Rosanne Dingli

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

When is a review not a review?

Mary Cassatt - The Reader

In these days of rapid publishing, quick downloads, fast reading, and trigger-happy reviews, one must wonder about the meaningfulness of it all. The very definition of the word review is becoming skewed and market-shaped. Never has the consumer had more power to influence than now.

What? The reader ... a consumer? That comment alone would have been viewed as sacrilege eight or eighteen years ago.

Reviews are not merely opinions, they are REACTIVE opinions: the opinions one forms as consumers of anything these days are dubbed 'reviews'. Restaurant meals, small appliances, wine, television programs, digital games, mobile phones, breakfast cereals ... their makers and retailers create places where consumers can leave their opinions. And REVIEWS is the best word they could use.

When we have a reaction, as ordinary readers, we feel we need to warn off the rest of the world, or give it the come hither beckon. This kind of REACTIVE review is what one generally finds on Amazon and other online retailers' sites. And readers and authors heed these knee-jerk (or keyboard finger-jerk) reactions with the same attention and weight as they might have - a decade ago - given to a critical review.
The CRITICAL review is different. The word does not mean that it criticizes... it means that the review comes from a career CRITIC, one qualified by experience, education, occupation - or all three - to draw an objective perspective on a literary work. Objective is the operative word here, which still does not remove a CRITICAL review completely from the realm of the subjective (formed from an opinion).

There used to be a time when authors, critics, and publishers had more or less equal understanding of these terms. All that is gone - we have authors who are learning as they go, readers who think they qualify as critics, and the publisher is of course a bit of a dinosaur. What kind of a USEFUL dinosaur this is will be shown in the next five years.

Publishing houses now value (at least ostensibly) readers' reactive reviews very highly - as highly as those that might be written by a 'real' literary critic, whose job, these days, is largely supernumerary, redundant, pushed to the corners of the reading earth. Online reactive reviews are counted, observed, announced, and publicized like never before. Never has so much fuss been lavished on so little of value. The spotlight focussed on deleted reviews from 'competing' author peers on Amazon last year was intense.

Never has so much fuss been lavished on so little of value.

So  how much weight, attention and value should an author place on random reviews? Because of their perceived importance, it is definitely worthwhile to have a few. It is also important to have a number of less-than-glowing reviews, if only to indicate the collection is formed by bona fide readers, and not the fawning family and friends of the author. It is important to have at least a couple of 5-star reviews to indicate that the work in question is worth some consideration.

The necessaity lies, however, in understanding the meaningfulness and the evolving role of the so-called review when it comes to books. Rather than taking them personally - even if chock-full of praise - the author needs to see they are (or ought to be) directed at the work, rather than its creator. The necessity lies in seeing reviews as what they are: reactive opinions, unless they come from a bona fide literary critic with a wealth of background reading against which to place the new book.

If you have taken on a new understanding of what reviews could mean to you as reader or author, leave a comment.

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Nearly there - a new novel in the making

Revealing the title, blurb, and cover of my forthcoming novel on Facebook last week was good fun. Sixty readers came along and joined in. We had virtual champagne, canapes, and general chatter. Great fun was had by all.

Rosanne Dingli The Hidden AuditoriumThe Hidden Auditorium has raised the curiosity of a satisfying number of readers, many of whom said they can't wait to read it. During the reveal event, I displayed several pictures of locations, costumes and props, as used in the narrative. You can see it all here.

The novel is another 'art history mystery', in a similar style used in my other three novels. It's meant to make readers follow a mysterious thread while forming sympathy for the protagonist. Hopefully, this happens in The Hidden Auditorium as well. My editor and team of beta-readers all agree it is quite captivating, so I'm left wondering whether the reading public will feel the same.

One of my beloved characters from According to Luke, my second novel, makes another appearance in this new novel. I could not resist giving him a part in the unraveling of this new mystery, which is firmly based in the history of music. Classical music is one of my personal loves, so presenting it to my readers seems a no-brainer at this stage. In three novels, I have presented love for special locations, love for visual art, and love for literary pursuits. Music seems now to need a turn.

In this novel, Nic Manton, a small-time Italo-Australian antiques dealer living in Rome, stumbles on a piece of jewellery he thinks might lift him from financial doldrums. The woman who leads him to it acts strange, but reliable experts tell him his find is not only valuable, but holds the key to an old mystery to do with nusic. Trying to solve it means taking on the help of an old Welshman living in Venice, Bryn Awbrey, who first appeared in According to Luke. He soon shows Manton a few relevant clues which they follow. Nothing prepares them for what they find, or the violence they unleash. The story of the pendant and Nic's own life become inseparably entwined as the narrative takes the adventurers from Venice to Malta. There are little peeks at Vienna and Bayreuth woven into the story. The ending is a revelation even to the old Welshman... so readers might like the unexpected twist too.

How long must readers wait for this new novel? Only a few weeks remain until it is launched. Work is now progressing on the cover details, the exact wording of the blurb, the final editing of the text, and the design of the interior.

Leave a comment if you look forward to reading The Hidden Auditorium.

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