A reader’s life is all about reviews. For finding books to read and for recommending, or not, books to others.
There was an article on The Guardian the other day by an author who recounted her experience of a bad review. This woman ended up basically stalking the reviewer in an attempt to prove her a sort-of troll (I think the term used was catfish) who refused to let anyone like the book and wrote all sorts of things not remotely connected to the book in question.
My guess is that such people (troll-reviewers) are few and far between. But the question about reviewing remains: should one write a bad review? I read a bad review about one of my much-beloved Heyers, which made my blood boil. And then I dismissed the reviewer as some ignorant person and I calmed down. I imagine it’s even more upsetting when it’s your own book being reviewed.
We’re all entitled to our opinions about books, good or bad. I find that, quite often, I dislike novels which those-in-the-know recommend. I’ve heard many good things about The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Can’t stand it and the only reason I read it (and finished it) was because I was reading it for a book-club. It perhaps fared slightly better than Perfume, which we also read, and which languishes barely half-read on a shelf somewhere, but The Road managed to both bore and irritate me. I’m sure the stylistic choice to have the punctuation reflect the post-apocalyptic world (or whatever it was that the English teacher suggested was the reason for the lack of anything except full-stops etc.) was an excellent choice on the part of the author. I didn’t, and don’t, like it. The story itself? Nope, still didn’t like it; it was tedious. So I wouldn’t recommend it to others. Sorry, McCarthy.
Sometimes, though, a bad review makes me want to seek out the book and have a look. To see if the reviewer is “right”. Surely it can’t be all that bad, I say to myself. And then I make up my own mind. What’s that saying about publicity? No publicity is bad publicity? Bad reviews don’t seem to have done EL James any harm. (Fifty Shades is one book I picked up thinking, Can’t be all that bad, and then put down again when the page I opened it on talked about the narrator’s “inner goddess”. Yes, yes it is that bad. Believe the reviews.)
For myself, since I don’t review books for a living and I can therefore choose which books I read, I’m more likely to write positive reviews. Because I choose the books I read, I choose books which I think I’ll enjoy – and usually I’m right. So I’ll write about the books which I’ve read, and enjoyed. Thus, a positive review. No doubt on the occasions when I’m slightly less enthused by my book, I shall say so. But it’s just my opinion. You might like it.
And my answer to the question posed is this: If you’re reviewing a book, you should be honest about your reaction to it. If you didn’t like it, say so and say why. Authors, just remember that not everyone is going to like every word you write.