Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Book Business: Nicholas Clee on Why Reviewing Your Friend's Book Is Always a Bad Idea

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Book Business: Nicholas Clee on Why Reviewing Your Friend's Book Is Always a Bad Idea

Article excerpt

John Irving recently told the Today programme: "I'm not really concerned about book reviewers." Yeah, right. Many authors come up with this line: it is a way of deflecting questions about nasty notices, as well as an assertion of their own superiority, as artists rather than hacks.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Irving certainly paid attention when Marianne Wiggins, in the Washington Post, described his novel Until I Find You as a "mass of lazy, unrefined writing". He contacted the paper, pointing out that he and Wiggins had used to socialise, when she was married to his friend Salman Rushdie. The Post responded by issuing an apology to readers for the "misstep" in running the piece; Wiggins's previous contact with the author, the paper explained, "should have disqualified her as a reviewer". The apology pointed out that contributors to the books pages were asked to sign agreements acknowledging any such association, although it evaded stating clearly whether Wiggins had signed the agreement in this case.

The implication of the Post agreement is that readers of the books pages should be able to read disinterested judgements. If reviewers are friends or foes of the author, their pieces might be tainted by personal considerations. Irving seems to have believed that some animus inspired Wiggins's piece--why otherwise would he have complained? Wiggins and Rushdie went through a hostile divorce; asked about it recently, Rushdie said, "Do not start me on Marianne Wiggins." But suspicion of her on these grounds seems very far-fetched: would anyone seek revenge on an ex-husband by dissing his friend's novel? The review itself does not arouse suspicion, and is mild in tone by comparison with several other attacks on Until I Find You.

Presumably, the Washington Post takes a similarly dim view of unacknowledged friendship--although Irving might not have complained if Rushdie had reviewed Until I Find You. …

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