Today's Sunday Guardian column.
Book reviewers tend to employ the same adjectives over and over again. Novels are ‘evocative’, 'epic' or 'esoteric'; prose can be 'lyrical', 'luminous' or 'lilting'. There’s another series of adjectives often used, which describe the novel under review in terms of the style of another author. (Among other things, this has the advantage of making the reviewer appear well-read.) Here, for the rest of us, is a description of what actually goes through reviewers’ minds when they resort to this ploy.
Kafkaesque: Hold on, what’s happening in this novel? Why is that character spending his life trying to get somewhere else? What was he accused of? Am I really expected to read the work of a guy who uses capital letters instead of names? Maybe I dreamt this, but I’m sure one of the characters also turned into an insect. What was he smoking?
Joycean: This was taxing. There were so many words that I hadn’t come across before – and they weren’t in the dictionary either. The publishers said it was an English novel but maybe they sent me the foreign language translation by mistake. And they’d better talk to the typesetter – he seems to have eliminated all the quotation marks. The author must be really angry. Tee-hee.
Dickensian: Where is this writer getting the names of his characters from? Not the phone directory, that’s for sure. And he seems to be on a social crusade by depicting the lives of those with horrible childhoods and others who are caught up in jails, factories and law courts. Never happened to me, thank goodness. There’s also a pickpocket, I think. And lots of fog.
Dosteovskian: The problem with authors is that they don’t get out much. That’s why they’re so grim, so morose. Take this chap. He makes his characters go underground, suffer theological qualms, and generally mutter to themselves like misfits. How is a publisher ever going to get a film studio interested in this?
Tolstoyan: So many pages, so many people! Hard to keep track of them all. Many go off to war. Others enter into adulterous relationships. A few start farming. One of them will probably open an organic food store and start wearing woven sandals. I’m sure they all meet and reconcile at the end, but I can’t be bothered to finish the book. Holding it up is giving me carpal tunnel syndrome.
Beckettian: People hang about in homes and street corners throughout the book. I couldn't understand much of it, but I think they're waiting for someone. The conversation is pointless and there's very little of it. I wanted to use the word "existential" but didn't have the patience to look up what it means.
Proustian: What a long, self-absorbed book, full of endless sentences that circle continuously between past and present and examine the effect of one on the other almost as though the writer’s suffered a fit of indigestion by overeating a childhood treat and is now trying to get it out of his system once and for all.
Carveresque: At least these stories are short. How many hours can a chap waste reading? I actually managed to finish the collection, so it must be good. But his characters….they sit around drinking and thinking suicidal thoughts all day long. I could do with a drink myself, come to think of it. Better finish this review first.
Murakamiesque: This one was full of cats. And descriptions of women’s ears. And jazz. And lonely men and women in subways nursing broken, or dented, hearts. Not sure how it all adds up, but I guess it does in some alternative realm. I’m tempted to call it “Kafkaesque”. Or do I mean “Carveresque”?