Getting a book published is an emotionally and financially draining enterprise, with no guaranteed reward at the end of it. Given this reality, it is no surprise that reviewers must seem, at times, to be unfeeling sadists who squeeze their salaries directly out of the crushed egos of young novelists. Yet the publishing industry is a business, like any other. Critics, literary journals and literary agents are caught up in a game of money-spinning, with authors running like frantic squirrels on exercise-wheels, at the heart of the machine. Praise is the grease that makes all the cogs whirr smoothly. As Kiran Nagarkar, award-winning author of Cuckold says, “Internationally, most reviewers have forgotten the meaning of scale – like advertising people, they can now deal only with superlatives.” To call a book merely “good” is, in today’s inflated currency of praise, almost an insult. It has to be “the best book of its generation”, a “tour de force”, a “masterwork” or else it’s rat-feed in the distributor’s godown.
Against this backdrop, negative reviews are almost a sign of vigour. It means that critics are free to express their honest opinions, and that their main concern is for the readers who, presumably, buy books for pleasure and not just to inflate the expenditure account on their income tax returns. While it’s no more realistic to expect authors to welcome criticism of their books than to expect any of us to enjoy going under a dentist’s drill, I think most of us recognize that it’s better to have vigorous dentists than bad teeth.”
“How good does Indian writing have to be? In the last few months, we saw really brilliant work from writers as disparate as Haruki Murakami, Ian McEwan, Orhan Pamuk and Andrea Levy, to name a scant handful. In the increasingly eclectic world of Indian reviewing, these books are also up for review; if you’re a reviewer who reads in another Indian language aside from English, as many of us do, you’re looking at another 10-15 potentially great books to be read every month.
There isn’t space any more for kindness. There isn’t the room to make allowances for the Indian writer working in English. And from what I’ve seen of young Indian writers at home and elsewhere, there’ll be no need for grace marks in another few years. Until then, though, if you’re an author in search of adulation and you don’t get it, follow the advice that V S Naipaul famously offered a fellow writer: take it on the chin and move on.”