The Art & Craft of Clever Reviews

‘Having resolved to exercise your brain and refresh your literary palate you decide to read this newly translated 1968 text by the deceased experimental french writer georges perec who is celebrated for once having written a long novel without using the letter “e” so having forked out your ten quid for this short story or at a stretch novella but a book is not any the better for being cheaper by the word you remind yourself in any case having forked out over ten pounds you begin to read and either you find the looping style immediately so rebarbative that you cast the book to the floor and feyly lament your wasted cash or you find the style intriguing and continue reading…’ (Stephen Poole on The Art and Craft of Approaching Your Head of Department to Submit a Request for a Raise)

Stephen Poole’s review of Perec forms part of a rather grand tradition: that of writing reviews in the style of the book reviewed. I used to know a critic who wrote every one of his reviews in this manner. If the book was short, sharp and full of sexy punctuation, so too was his review. If the sentence-structure was turgid, the metaphors laboured, and the punctuation lazy: his review was likewise. On top of this, the length of his reviews were always directly proportional to the length of the book in question. A novella received a paragraph; a two-part epic received a novella. His last, and best, review was of a new International translation of The Holy Bible. Each one of its sixty-six paragraphs took the style of a different Biblical book. It was both a masterly parody and a serious-minded review. It was also brilliant.

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