Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Monday, January 3, 2011

When The Barbarians Come They Will Make The Laws; Or, Rome Wasn’t Sacked In One Day

It’s not often I get reviewed these days, which is hardly surprising, given that I haven’t had a book published since God was a lad. Or 2008, to be a little more accurate about it, which was when HMH published THE BIG O in the US. Even so, reviews of THE BIG O do tend to pop up on blogs and websites at irregular intervals, for which I’m very grateful indeed, the latest coming courtesy of Glenna over at Various Random Thoughts, with the gist running thusly:
“It was clever, funny, the characters smart and witty, and a plot evocative of Elmore Leonard … Intelligence, humour, and wonderful characters all made for an enjoyable and quick read.” - Various Random Thoughts
  I thank you kindly, ma’am.
  Print reviews, of course, traditionally appeared in a very narrow window around a book’s publication, but websites and blogs give people the freedom to write about whatever it is they’re reading, however belatedly. Brian Lindemuth, if I’m not mistaken, is taking that notion to another level entirely, by revisiting novels to review them years after they’ve been published, while the Patti Abbott-inspired meme-a-licious ‘Friday’s Forgotten Books’ has been excavating ignored novels for quite some time now, and is very probably the inspiration for Twitter’s ‘Friday Reads’ hash tag.
  It’s not quite the interweb’s fabled long tail, and it may well be the reverse of the long tail, without being an actual short tail, but whatever it is, long may it continue. The increasing volume of books published, combined with the limitations of print reviewing - space, for the most part - mean that most books don’t get reviewed in the traditional way, leaving the interweb to pull in the slack and go some way towards levelling the playing field for upstarts like yours truly. And that’s before we factor in the number of e-only books being published these days, which is very probably the next big growth area for on-line reviewing.
  Anyway, it was a good holiday for me in terms of being reviewed, for two - Oh yes! Two! - reviews of my books appeared. The second gives another little twist on the potential of web-based reviewing, given that Mike Dennis, bless his cotton socks, not only read my current novel-under-consideration, BAD FOR GOOD, aka THE BABY KILLERS, but blogged a review of it over at his interweb lair. The gist:
“The book is a dizzying ride through all phases of author angst, including the ending (which you won’t see coming), and Burke has deftly pushed the envelope just about as far as it can go.” - Mike Dennis
  Now, there’s a very good chance that I’m a little too close to this particular project to be objective about it, but there’s something delightfully subversive about the idea of a novel that hasn’t been published, and may well not be published, being fair game for reviewing. Maybe it’s just a mini-version of Authonomy and suchlike, where writers post excerpts for workshop purposes, and get feedback from their peers, although it’s only fair to say that BAD FOR GOOD is the finished article, for good or ill. Either way, it’s another example of the web’s capacity to bypass, undermine and / or ignore the current model of publishing, which seems to grow more moribund by the day.
  Of course, such reviews - of books that may never grace a shelf - might well be pointless, given that they have no real worth beyond my own gratification. In other words, the writer-critic-reader feedback loop being largely the preserve of dusty academia these days, the industry’s perception of reviews is that they boost sales. So what’s the point of reviewing a book that can’t be monetised?
  Well, the thing is this: once a book is written, and written as well as it can be, then you’re kind of honour bound as its writer to do something with it. The traditional thing, of course, is to send said tome to your agent, if you have one, or to a slush-pile, and I have taken the traditional steps. But, given the dynamic immediacy of the web, such steps seem almost passive these days. So why not, if there are readers out there willing to read the story, send it to them and see what they think of it? If I may quote Dostoevsky, as I do in BAD FOR GOOD: “You will ask why did I worry myself with such antics. Answer: Because it was very dull to sit with one’s hands folded, and so one began cutting capers.” - Fyodor Dostoevsky, NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND.
  Or, more bluntly, and quoting Cavafy: “When the Barbarians come they will make the laws.”
  In short, I’m happy to imagine BAD FOR GOOD as one of a horde of barbarians clamouring at the gates. There’s a very good chance, what with all those pinging arrows and barrels of boiling oil, and all my fellow barbarians a-clamouring, that BFG won’t make it over the battlements. Still, better to die in a gloriously foolhardy assault than starve silently to death beyond the walls. No?


Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Mr. Dennis' review was right on the money. I'm really hoping BFG finds a publisher, as it would be pretty cool to have a print version of that novel

Michael Malone said...

Onwards and upwards - over the walls, dude.

Just so you know, I gave you a starring role in my picks of the year - go here for some positive and well deserved strokes. (so to speak)

Glenna said...

You're very welcome, and I agree, I like that us everyday readers can get our opinions out there.

michael said...

I am only hoping I can read it someday.

The hell with the question, "So what's the point of reviewing a book that can't be monetised?"

So what's the point of reviewing a book that I can't read? Other than to taut me with Mr. Dennis good fortune.

Declan Burke said...

Mick - You're a gent, squire - much obliged. Terrific review, said he, humbly.

Sean - BFG will appear in print, by hook or by crook, etc.

Glenna - correct and true; if the industry is to change, it'll be from the grassroots upwards.

Michael - if you fancy a read of BFG, drop me a line, I'll email you a copy.

Cheers, Dec

Pepper Smith said...

Getting a good review is like basking in the sun on a really nice spring day...or something like that. Makes you feel all warm and glowy, anyway.

Onwards and upwards to the barbarian hordes. Even iron gates will give out, if you put enough mass behind the battering ram.