posted by Karen Burnham at Tuesday 27 November 2012 @ 4:31 pm BST
This conversation is a spin-off from the earlier discussion of Reviewing.
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Proposal. Try to think of a single review which lacks spoilers that would be impossible for a trained reviewer to compose out of the toolkit plus 10 minutes in the book being covered.
Proposal: Try to think of a single review without spoilers that, in five years, gives anyone any sense of how that particular book made anything new.
Proposal: Replace the term “spoiler” with the term “recognition”. (Recognition being the realization of what it all means, natch.)
Well, for proposal #2, last year I had cause to go back and look at reviews of Greg Egan’s Permutation City (1992). Both Gary and Russell reviewed it for Locus. Neither review had much in the way of spoilers, both had plenty of recognition, and both had a good sense for what it was doing that made it unique and new in the context of the post-Cyberpunk sf field. I found it interesting that while both agreed on what it was doing and what made it important, Gary’s review pointed out several flaws while Russell’s was more enthusiastic. Just goes to show that even when reviewers agree on context, there’s still the matter of taste to consider!
Yeah, PROPOSITIONS are a way of shouting to be heard. Corner me and (obviously) I’ll admit I prefer reviews that talk about the endgame of a book because, for me, endgame is what a book does is what a book is about; and will be happy to admit (with a glass of wine) that, sure, sure, many reviews courteous to the seemingly universal resentment against spoilers do convey a good deal (the best reviewers, like all of us here, tend to develop expositional skills that give way more than a semblance of coverage to spoiler-compliant copy). Way more of a semblance, but maybe not the full monty.
At the heart of the PROPOSITION is a feeling that the avoidance of “spoilers” has become something of a shibboleth; that the term itself clearly condemns in advance the nature of what is being done when a reviewer talks about endgame in clear; that there is an arguable association between the fact that most of us eschew talking about how books come to their point and the fact that the climaxes of so many books suck (maybe because so little critical attention is paid them, so there is no readily speakable consensus about what it means to end a story); and that spoiler-compliance radically misprisions the complexity of the relationship between reader-response and the contract to be told story.
Which is not to say that a reviewer should exactly feel free to do a “spoiler” on the (to my mind) exceedingly rare story that depends on the reader/viewer actively following the wrong path, and that their not knowing is what the story is about. The obvious example being Hitchcock’s Psycho.
The few times I have sidestepped “spoilage,” it has been out of respect for the author of the book, more than out of concern that I’ll be giving away too much for the readers of the book. But I would like to think that authors who have written a good book know that describing the endgame may be crucial to a reviewer discussing why the book is a good one–just as I would like to think that readers know that there are many aspects of a well-written book to appreciate besides the plot twist revealed in a review.
It seems to me the best reviews are those written assuming everybody who reads it has already read the book.
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