A review is just somebody’s opinion. It’s something of a truism, of course. And sometimes, it’s not even true. Some reviews are deliberate attempts to undermine a book’s (or a movie’s, or a restaurant’s) reputation. Sometimes they’re the reverse – paid-for reviews, or reviews left by well-meaning family and friends. Let’s exclude those from the discussion and only consider what might be termed ‘genuine’ reviews.
I think everyone who’s been in the writing business for more than, say, five minutes has learned that not everyone is going to like their book. My science fiction romance books may contain too much sex and not enough science for some readers. Or, the other way around, too much action-adventure and not enough romance. That’s a matter of reader expectation which can be addressed in a number of ways – cover and blurb being the obvious ones. Even then, though, what can you say to a person who is disappointed to read a $0.99 short story, not a novel, when the description clearly shows the length as forty pages? Or the ‘reviewer’ who complains about the gore in a book clearly marked as extreme horror? Or the reader who can only have ignored the blurb stating the book is dark, transgender homo-erotic when there is no happy-ever-after?
But back to real reviews. Like so much in life, people’s take on a story depends so very much on their own life experience. An author friend recently received a review on a book that dealt with deep, dark subjects. The reviewer couldn’t believe that the main character would make the same mistake more than once. Surely he wouldn’t go back for more! Really? Tell that to the battered wife who believes him when he says it’s the drink talking, he loves her, he won’t do it again. Or the heroin addict who knows the next dose may kill her, but shoots up, anyway.
Some people find swearing a complete turn-off. I’ve expressed my opinion on the ‘F-bomb’ (an expression I despise) elsewhere. But I do have to wonder if those readers have ever been anywhere where a group of teens gathers, and listen to the conversation. Other people wonder why the character would venture down into the basement by herself when she hears that strange rustling? But people do. Because we’re curious. This is not the ‘too dumb to live’ scenario, where the fourth person in the group goes down the dark path under the trees, after her three companions have already disappeared one at a time, in the same direction. People are a mixed bunch. Some women do still have a tendency to see their ex as something of a child, who has fallen into something beyond his control. Some people think it’s wise to marry somebody imprisoned for murder while they’re still inside. Some people tend to try to see the best in everyone.
The easy answer to this apparent disconnect between the words on the page and the reader is that the author hasn’t written the book well enough to convince. That may be so, but what about the reviewers who did ‘get’ it, who were convinced? If they’re in the minority, that’s a problem the author may care to consider. If they’re not, all s/he can do is shrug and move on.
To paraphrase the immortal Obi-wan Kenobi, “what I told you is true – from a certain point of view.” (Return of the Jedi)