‘Private Eye’ on ‘Nora Webster’: an exercise in extreme prejudice.

While reading a borrowed copy of ‘Private Eye’, I was somewhat surprised to read a very hostile review of the latest novel by Colm Tóibín. Firstly, it complained about the fact that it was a historical work. Secondly, it moaned about the fact that other Irish writers had focused on history. Thirdly, it argued that the book wasn’t a legitimate novel at all. This latter contention stressed the autobiographical element of ‘Nora Webster.’

Even if I had not enjoyed the book immensely, I would have been a little troubled by the review. It sought to draw narrow lines about what is acceptable as art. It aspired to dismiss a work in part because of its origin. It failed to appreciate positive aspects of a work which the reviewer found uncongenial overall.

While freedom of speech is really important, a reviewer has some limited responsibility to be fair to literature in the broadest sense. This is because the reviewer can come between a text and a public. It is a privilege to review a book. Being so arbitrary as to dismiss entire genres as outside the boundaries of the novel is a colossal failure of the imagination.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s