Simon S's post today is about books we couldn't finish or ones which we've put down, mystified as to how they've got to where they are in the first place. I came upon one of the latter recently and would like to talk about it - obliquely - to make a point.
I picked up the novel in question with high hopes as it sounded my sort of thing, and I anticipated a good read. What I found was a patchwork piece of writing: some very competent passages which showed that the author had a flair for a sentence, knew how to make a detail work, could sketch a scene and colour it well, but elsewhere, I could follow the writer's tracks, as it were, and I could see that at various junctures they had lost their way, and when that happened the scenes which followed were at best 'random', at worst irrelevant and pointless, and this was where the patchwork aspect came in, the darning, the 'stick that bit there to cover the join and no-one will be any the wiser'.
More importantly than that, the entire plot was undermined because at best a weak case was made for the central character's actions - actions and decisions on which the whole book hinged - and at worst no case at all. Nothing would stand up to scrutiny. The story, such as it was, was fundamentally and fatally flawed.
It strikes me that the author, whose debut this was, has been very poorly served by their agent, in the first place, and their editor, in the second. A careful reading should have shown up all the book's weaknesses (which I and others have spotted), and a sympathetic and diligent agent/editor should have sent back the manuscript with a view to making the whole thing much stronger and tighter, something which I'm sure the writer could have done.
Why am I mentioning this? It bothers me. It bothers me that readers - and here I mean the professionals - should be so lax and undemanding, because the book has attracted a certain amount of favourable attention, an amount out of all proportion to its worth as it stands, in my opinion, and from quarters from which I'd have expected much greater discernment. I know others share my views on this, so it's not just a case of my being unduly pernickety. Regardless of genre, target audience, projected place on the 'literary ladder', a novel should meet certain standards, it should be good of its kind, however unpretentious or ambitious that may be; it's disappointing when a book falls short.
One step in the manufacturing process for Harris tweed is the close examination of the fabric against the light to ensure the weave is even and there are broken threads. Similarly, as last night's documentary on Liberty showed, 'draft'* lengths of Tana lawn will be sent back for re-printing so that the colour balance can be re-adjusted and a harmonious design achieved. Why is the same care and attention to detail and overall quality not being paid to books within the publishing process? Why is 'unfinished' work being put out? Do readers, i.e. the public, just not care?
*Edited to add: this article contains more information about the Liberty design process, including "strike offs" or "fents".