In Robert McCrum’s column on the best of the year’s fiction, he tackles the logrolling issue by offering full disclosure on the degree of his relationship with each author on a scale of 0-10, with 0 being “don’t know at all”, 9 being “very close” and 10, which no author gets, being presumably “she and I are still playing footsie in bed”.
I’m all in favour of full disclosure. But the McCrum Scale For Critics sends shivers down my spine. It has great potential: there’s the possibility of discreet name-dropping, for example (so Paul Auster rates a 9 with McCrum and Peter Carey an 8? Zoe Heller has some catching up to do…).
What if you get it wrong, though? That pleasant evening with El Nobelista you remember so well might show up as a 6 on your scale, but El Nobelista might write back with a puzzled: “And you are…?” Or worse, if you get it wrong on the opposite end of the scale, and Struggling Young Turk realises, too late, that the “close friendship” he’s been boasting of rates a dismal 2.5 in your book. And then there’s the need for revisions: you could chart entire cultural and personal histories just by perusing the rise-and-fall on the critic’s full disclosure posts.
“Yes, back in the days when they agreed on the importance of transgressive writing, he was a 9; but then she did that take-down of what she called the “ersatz narratology” in his Great Novel and he slid down to a 1.5, after which they found themselves on the same side of the Derridean fence, and jogged along at a 5.6, but then they slept together and he went back to 8, but he was so miffed that this didn’t rate a 9, they broke up and now he’s a permanent 3.”
And then you might have Fledgling Critic-Cynical Doyen disagreements on what exactly each number on the scale stands for:
Author gets a 0:
Fledgling critic: “I’m proud to stand outside the corrupt circus of the literary establishment and offer an independent opinion untainted by personal contact with authors that might taint my perfectly independent, furiously honest review!”
Cynical Doyen: “The author’s dead, or we’d be doing lunch at his chateau.”
Author gets a 5:
Fledgling critic: “He raised an eyebrow at me at so-and-so’s book launch, and said, oh hello there.”
Cynical Doyen: “He’s slapped my face with his glove thrice after bad reviews, but we’ve been out for drinks seven times after the good ones so I guess it evens out.”
Author gets a 9:
Fledgling critic: “I interviewed him once and he wrote me the sweetest thank-you email afterwards.”
Cynical Doyen: “Some people call him Snuffles and bring him fluffy blankets with ducks on them to warm up his cold toes, but I never did that. The blanket with my initials on them and ‘CD Lurves You, Yes I Do’ hand-knitted across the bottom row? My rivals must have planted it.”
I’m having way too much fun with this so I’d better stop now. Oh, and McCrum’s picks are pretty good.