On Reviewing

I’ve recently added two reviews – Noah’s Compass by Anne Tyler and All the Colours of the Town by Liam McIlvanney – to the ‘Reviews’ pages, with links to their online posting in the literary ezine, The Literateur Magazine. Out of these contemporary studies of the modern male, I much preferred Tyler’s wry character-driven story of retired teacher Liam Pennywell’s attempts to reconnect with his family to McIlvanney’s  plot-driven exposé of Scottish religious and political tensions as seen through the eyes of Gerry Conway, a hard-nosed journalist with a soft-centre.

I have to admit my partiality to Tyler’s fiction. I’ve read and enjoyed almost all of her books. Although there are gaps, such as The Tin Can Tree, I’ve read everything from A Slipping Down Life (1969; reissued by Vintage, 1990) to Digging to America (2006) and consider her Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1998) one of the best books ever written.

This is McIlvanney’s fictional debut but not the first time I’ve come across his work. In my ‘other life’ as academic researcher I’ve read and disagreed with his monologue, Burns the Radical: Politics and Poetry in late Eighteenth-Century Scotland (Tuckwell Press, 2002). In my ‘good reads’ review I gave it 3 stars: “McIlvanney’s book is thoroughly researched and well-written. He offers a lively new interpretation of many of Burns’s poems, well-known and the lesser known ones. It’s hard to agree with his views on Scottish contractarianism but that aside it’s a good addition to Burns scholarship.” 

My disagreement, such as it is, is with McIlvanney’s view of presbyterianism, the Enlightenment and how they affected Scottish society and not on his writing style.

Do I still have this in mind, though, when reading his fiction?

I worry whether my preference for Tyler over McIlvanney is down to gender? Would a male reader find the same things to disagree with in both texts?

Enjoy, but approach the reviews with all the above in mind.

Author: Janette Currie

Editor and literary consultant at JC Consultancy. Freelance writer.