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February 2013
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Ninebelow [userpic]
Lies, Damn Lies And Capsule Reviews

Alfred Hickling has long been my least favourite reviewer for the Guardian (excluding Eric Brown, obviously.) However he has surpassed himself this week with his review of The Glass Books And The Dream Eaters. Not only does he get the title of GW Dahlquist's novel wrong but he also clearly hasn't read the novel. His one sentence summary is factually wrong on two major points:

Three principal characters - a prostitute, a physician and a blind assassin - become involved in a shady society whose sadistic rituals Dahlquist dwells on at dubious length.
If you can't get the broadest details of the principal characters right, what can you get right? I fully understand that no one is about to read a 750 page novel just to write a 150 word capsule but since he has somehow managed to wangle the gig at the Guardian you might think he could at least participate in the fiction that capsule reviews are real reviews and not give the game away so easily.


Actually, I was furious with Hickling as someone who does write a lot of capsule reviews and always has, some of them even shorter than the Guardian ones, and always reads the books thoroughly and always endeavours to get everything right. As far as I am concerned, you do the job, simple as that, and the job is 1. to be accurate 2. to be smart and helpful and 3. to write as good prose in the space as is consistent with 1 and 2. Hickling suffers from the delusion that he is better than the material he writes about, without having as yet demonstrated any right to that opinion.

Beg to differ: when our reviewers don't read the books in full before writing our very short reviews, we fire 'em. Having done so for roughly a hundred PW reviews myself--including the dreadful book that I described as a 400-page short story--I have no patience with people who claim that it's unnecessary.