Waiting for reviews of your book is rather like lying down - naked - on a railway line and waiting for the train to come along. Sometimes it stops and you can breathe a sigh of relief, get up , get dressed and go home for tea. Sometimes it just goes straight on.
I suppose I should feel flattered to get a whole page in the Guardian from no less than Hermione Lee, but the mauling I got more than cancelled out the plus factors. I’m used to reviewers who don’t like what you do - if they say so fairly and frankly with respect for the author and the work they’ve put in, that’s fine. But I’m not used to unkindness and I did feel that this review crossed the line.
My CV of well respected and sometimes award-winning biographies, is swept aside. I am apparently the ‘biographer of an assortment of women writers’. And then there’s the way I’ve written this one. Ok, so Hermione doesn’t think my structure works - that’s fine. And I can even accept that a style of narrative that a dozen other reviewers have found ‘enthralling’ doesn’t appeal to her. I'm willing to defend my choices. But I thought her final blow was just an inch or so below the belt. She ends:
‘Kathleen Jones's relation to her subject reminded me of Ida Baker, as perceived by Mansfield: faithful, attentive, true as steel, flat-footed, and unbearably irritating.’
Ouch!! But I’m determined not to let it get to me - I’ve had fabulous reviews from authors such as Helen Dunmore, Jacqueline Wilson, Lyndall Gordon and Vincent O’Sullivan - most recently Pamela Norris in the Literary Review. I just don’t think Hermione has really understood what I was trying to do and it wasn’t her sort of book. But I could wish that she’d said it a little more gently.
I hope this doesn't sound like sour grapes - every author has to accept bad reviews with good grace. You just have to carry on putting pen to paper.