Sunday, December 19, 2004

A Reviewer Reviewing a Reviewer

A wonderful review essay at the TLS about a newish book called Alone! Alone!: Lives of Some Outsider Women by Rosemary Dinnage. Dinnage is a reviewer who, by the sound of it, has been working for some time. I have never heard of her, but the review of Alone! Alone! has got me excited to read her book. The TLS reviewer writes:

What is it that Dinnage practises? It is not exactly anonymity, though it is related; it is rather a fully present quietness of self which allows those other voices, the voices of the dead and the gone, to be heard, the voices of the artists and history makers who helped form the self-consciousness of the still-alive. Alone! Alone! is a comradely reminder that no voice, no matter how marginalized its source, is ever solitary. It is also a collection that happens to be deft, suspenseful, heart-warming and unforgettable. I’ll add the words generous, open and satisfying to that list; they may be uncritical-sounding but they are proper in Rosemary Dinnage’s critical terms, on which she herself stands symbolically singularly in a world of reviewers who use their space in a much less attentive, much more prejudiced way.
Glowing to say the least. But beside this review that any writer would envy, the reviewer, Ali Smith, begins the essay asking, "What is reviewing for, when there hardly ever seems to be time or space to give either book or writer the proper context of the writer’s previous work?" She doesn't answer it directly but slips smoothly into discussing Dinnage's work, using Alone! Alone! as one possible answer to what the purpose of reviewing a book should be. It is an interesting question when the market for formal print book reviews appears to be shrinking while the online audience grows. It is also interesting in the light of the discovery earlier this year that authors and author's friends were reviewing their own books at What is the point of a review? One could certainly say it is to sell books, but not always since not all reviews are good. One could say that it is a critical examination of an author's work, but not always since some reviews simply provide a brief outline of the book in question. I'm not sure what the answer is. I do know that the kind of review I like best is the kind that Ali Smith wrote for Dinnage's book. A Review that is more of an essay, that makes me think about the book in question but also about its context; a review that tells me enough about the book to make me interested--or not--and then discusses the author's writing and it's place in the author's oeuvre; those are the kinds of reviews I like best. As for Dinnage's book, I sure hope somebody gifts me with a holiday check or Barnes and Noble card because I'd really like to read this book.