Sunday Salon: About Reviews and Reviewing
Rachel Polansky wrote a savage review of Orlando Figes's book in the TLS in 2002. Kate Summerscale's book was awarded the Samuel Johnson prize beating Orlando Figes's book which was shortlisted.
Recently an anonymous reviewer on Amazon 'Historian' with secondary nickname 'Orlando-Birkbeck' gave negative reviews of the Polansky and the Summerscale books and a highly positive review of the Figes book. Now Orlando Figes's lawyer has issued a statement:' My client's wife wrote the reviews...'
This story of malice and oversensitivity interests me because in 2004 my last novel was reviewed by Eva Figes, Orlando's mother, in the Guardian. It was not kind. My American editor said he felt for me. I tried to laugh it off but in truth it destroyed me for a while. I lost so much confidence that I resigned from my teaching post at a local university.
Luckily my book was also published in the United States and the reviews were all much kinder over there. It gave me back a little of what I'd lost.
The whole episode taught me an important lesson in writing my own reviews. I know reviews have to be honest but they don't need to be vindictive - and saying nothing is always an option.