LITERARY CRITICS: WHO NEEDS THEM?

Some time ago, on my way to looking up something else, I came across this review:

*’[He] has other peculiarities. For example, he hates the “he said” locution and avoids it as much as possible. Characters in [this book] seldom “say” anything. Instead, they cry, interject, interrupt, muse, state, counter, conclude, mumble, whisper ([he] is great on whispers), intone, roar, exclaim, fume, explode, mutter. There is one especially unforgettable tautology: “’I repeat,’ repeated Alex.”

‘The book may sell in the billions, but it’s still junk.’

Newgate Callender, The New York Times Book Review

The author is Robert Ludlum and the book is The Bourne Ultimatum.

Now let us think about those who might be happy with Ludlum’s style and voice, and those who might be unhappy. Happy must include Ludlum himself—I assume, his agent and publisher, most of his readers—although we can acknowledge perhaps a few are critical of this work (it was the 6th best selling novel in the US in 1990), Universal pictures—producers of the film, Paul Greengrass, Director, Matt Damon and his fellow actors, and the producers and any investors sharing out the $442,824,138 in earnings to date.

As far as I can tell, the only person unhappy with this is Mister Callender, and potentially Browne and King, should they be offered an opportunity to review or edit it.

I’m confused.

Personally, if my books were to sell in the billions, Mister Callender is free to say anything he likes about them; indeed, his criticisms are to be welcomed.


*As quoted by Brown, R. and King, D. (2004) Self Editing for Fiction Writers, 2nd edn. New York: HarperCollins.