Thursday, August 22, 2013

Reviewing a Nobel Prize Winner - Pressure!

I would guess that I've been reviewing for Library Journal for seven years now but I still consider myself an amateur critic. It took me several months and many angst-filled days to understand what fiction editor Barbara Hoffert first advised me. "Trust yourself as a reader." Whenever I delve into a new book now I think about the reader and the library's collection development folk who are working with less and less funding.

When J. M. Coetzee's newest novel, The Childhood of Jesus, arrived by mail I gulped. Yes, every major library needs to own this book but, five years from now, when staff members are weeding items for lack of use, I worry that this is exactly the kind of book that will end up on a Friends' sale rack.

Coetzee has two Booker Prizes and a Nobel to his name. How am I to deal with that? Can I say that I don't think this novel is going to be a bestseller? Am I allowed to visualize it languishing on the new book shelf, inevitably being passed over for the latest Daniel Silva or John Grisham? Don't I owe it to those librarians juggling their dwindling dollars to be truthful? Will Barbara one day call me up and say, "I can't publish this review."

Well, she hasn't yet and here it is, straight from the Barnes and Noble website where I can always be assured of finding my reviews. By the way, I'm such a devoted book reviewer, that this book accompanied us to Italy and I sent the review from our balcony in Lucca. The ARC, however, was a victim of the luggage purge in the Brussels airport and is now floating around somewhere in Europe. I hope it's pleasing to some of its recipients.

Library Journal
In this puzzling story, a man and a boy arrive by boat at an unknown destination, not unlike New York's Ellis Island, where they are given new names and birth dates. Because the five-year-old, now called David, has been separated from his mother on the boat, Simón takes responsibility for him. In this Spanish-speaking country, David and Simón struggle to adapt. Spare shelter is provided, and Simón finds work as a stevedore hauling sacks of grain. He teaches the precocious David to read using the allegorical story of Don Quixote to explain the worth of both logic and imagination, but when he finds a young woman to mother David, the two tangle regarding how to proceed with the youngster's education. The simplicity of Coetzee's prose belies the complexity of this Orwellian tale about a place where memory is denied, passion neutralized, and life is whittled down to its bare essentials. VERDICT Published in the UK in March to mixed reviews, Nobel Prize laureate and Booker Prize winner Coetzee's latest novel will be highly anticipated in the States. The dystopian themes may attract new readers, and students will have much to discuss, but fans of his more potent novels (e.g., Disgrace) may find this effort disappointingly flat. [See Prepub Alert, 3/18/13.]—Sally Bissell, formerly with Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Myers, FL

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