Tuesday, 24 August 2010

don't read the sunday times*

* Under specific circumstances to be detailed below

In the last couple of weeks I've read two cracking books set in posh schools. Skippy Dies is the Booker-longlisted second novel from Paul Murray; Gentlemen and Players is by Joanne Harris, the author of Chocolat. If you're me and your only experience of Chocolat is being made to watch it by your mum one Christmas, then you probably read the above sentence as one of diametrically opposite recommendations. I picked it up at the brilliant Firestation Book Swap because I saw the title, assumed it would be nothing to do with cricket (where the expression Gentlemen and Players comes from) and this could be the start of a scornful little riff for me about Joanne Harris, about whom I knew nothing.

On the back were a slew of incredibly positive quotes, and so, dear reader, I read the book. It was terrific. Skippy Dies was raved about by another bookswapper and I had been sent a copy and thought it looked interesting, and so I put it on my holiday reading slate.

Which was I more surprised to love? Obviously the Harris. I felt guilty for my stupid pre-judging.

Which was better? I don't have to tell you, because I am not being paid for my opinion. And I don't read reviews before reading books, just in case bits of plot are given away, because I love narrative and it's easy to ruin a book. On returning home, I read the Sunday Times review of Skippy Dies. It gave away the plot APPALLINGLY. It was as appalling as the bit of The Kilburn Social Club plot that the same reviewer gave away in the same paper. Absolutely do not read these reviews before reading Skippy Dies or TKSC.

(I don't get to express an opinion on the reviewer's artistic judgement, obviously. In case this looks disingenuous, the review of TKSC was lukewarm; of Skippy Dies was extremely warm. That's what you really need to know from the reviewer.)

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