In a Facebook exchange with an old friend, I mentioned that an old acquaintance of ours had always reminded me of Zenia in The Robber Bride, or rather, that when I read the novel, Zenia reminded me of her. Something about chaos, I wrote, or falseness.
But then I wondered how accurately I was remembering the book (the acquaintance, well, I'm not sure it matters how well I remember her), so I looked it up and found a review by Joan Thomas, who is a lovely person as well as an amazing writer. She was a books reviewer and columnist for the Globe and Mail and the Winnipeg Free Press for many years, so the quality of the review was no surprise --- and yet it was. It's so good.
Her piece in Books in Canada is not some kind of boldly negative exposé (that's at least what some people (not me) mean when they wish we had more "real" reviewing), but an insightful and elegant take on the novel in light of Atwood's oeuvre. Plus it has lines like this:
Every sober-sided history is at least half sleight-of-hand: the right hand waving its poor snippets of fact, out in the open for all to verify, while the left hand busies itself with its own devious agendas, deep in its hidden pockets.And this is just slipped in there...mere throwaway lines in the middle!
Granted, most newspapers can't spare the column inches for lines like these if they want to cover even a fraction of the worthy books to write about, and Books in Canada no longer exists. There are not many forums remaining for mid-length and long reviews in Canada. (Though I happily await correction or elaboration on this point.) I suppose it could be what the internet is for now, though as a forum I think it lends itself a little better (for the most part) to brief reviews, star ratings, Likes and +1s. (My love of the internet in helping to point the way to wonderful new books probably requires its own post.)
I'm happy that Joan is busy writing novels instead of reviews, but I know that books sections everywhere are poorer for it. For that matter, I'm happy and grateful for all writers and readers who take reviewing seriously.
It's time-consuming, it's almost thankless, it's difficult, and there are always going to be people who disagree. We're so lucky that fearless books columnists are doing this day after day, week after week!
Hug a critic, if you see one.