Inspired by the abandoned novels post, we seem to have temporarily abandoned our blog. Sorry, life intervened!
Rhian showed me a surprising review by Tadzio Koelb in the NYTBR this weekend. What's surprising is how clearly and cogently it's written, and its willingness to take a step back and examine the context into which the book in question, Rebecca Hunt's Mr. Chartwell, is being published.
In short, Koelb calls the book "well-packaged chick lit" that "benefits from the reassuring aura of history." (Winston Churchill is one of its three main characters.) He compares it to another recent novel, Child 44, which he says "was in the running for two of Britain's most important literary awards." This comes as a surprise to me, because I read that novel and thought it was rather poor, even as a piece of genre fiction. In any event, Koelb contends that both books are mediocrities that the literary press has elevated by virtue of their subject matter, rather than their artistic value; he believes this is a trend in book reviewing.
I think he's right. I am still bewildered by the fact that nobody seems to have recognized Freedom as Jonathan Franzen's worst book; it's a lopsided domestic drama with a lot of timely and unnecessary sociopolitical nonsense slathered over it. (FWIW, I enjoyed it anyway--but it is not up to Franzen's usual standard.) In that book, we were seduced, I think, by its ambitious title, its environmental subplot, its political undertones.
While I am enjoying the democratization of literary discourse that the internet has brought us, the trend Koelb describes is a consequence of the decline of newspapers and print magazines--hardly anyone is being paid to recognize artistic value anymore. And so, I fear, hardly anyone is bothering.