I have a book that's been sitting on my shelf for almost two years - an Israeli satire about book reviewing. I bought it for obvious reasons (it's a satire about book reviewing). But I haven't read it yet. Indeed, as time goes by, I find myself less and less inclined towards reading it, more and more hesitant. This hesitance was reinforced while reading a different Israeli novel over the past few days (פעם בחיים - translated title would be Once in a Lifetime). This novel, which was quite a struggle to get through for a myriad of reasons I won't get into in this post, had a certain subplot surrounding the struggles of a successful debut novelist trying to follow up on that early success.
Why is this relevant? Because Miri Rozovsky, the author of the book, was writing this subplot within the pages of her own second novel, following a rather successful debut. There was an unmistakable meta air to the whole story. And then the guilt - how can I criticize a book that is half expecting my critique? The reviewers are notoriously cruel against this young author within the pages of Once in a Lifetime, in a surprisingly sharp appraisal of reviewer-speak. But because we are supposed to sympathize with the fictional author, how can we fail to sympathize with the real author? How can we fail to sympathize with Rozovsky, who is on her second, more ambitious book? How can I, as a reviewer, accurately describe the many faults of this novel?
We in the book blogging/book reviewing world have talked endlessly about the author's place in a review. We've talked a lot about authors who overreact in response to harsh reviews. We've talked a lot about whether or not harsh reviews should even be written, given all the "harm" they can cause in shooting down a book's prospects. It's a debate that will go on. It's pretty important. In the case of Once in a Lifetime, this matter is made simple. When viewed through Rozovsky's lens, the author is the victim of nefarious reviewers. I, as a reviewer who believes wholeheartedly in the negative review, struggle to see this. And so I'm left feeling wholly uncomfortable, almost as though Rozovsky is quietly laughing at me. This is a quite unpleasant feeling.