If you are a practised reviewer of fiction, you will very soon learn to divide the books you have to review into quite a few categories according to their subjects. Thus, they may deal with Family Life, Village Life, London Life, Married Life, Individual Life, School Life, American Life, Corpses, International Conspiracies, South Sea Islands, or Love. As you will not wish to read the books, I will set down a few hints as to what to say of each class.

Family Life and Village Life are both rather sad, disagreeable subjects. The people who live in families and villages are seldom good or at all nice to one another. Villagers are the worst, for they are imbecile as well as criminal. They go further than families, as families only think and speak criminally, and villagers act. You may safely call a Village Life novel realistic and powerful, even, in some cases, sordid. If you call a Family Life novel any of these, you will probably be going further than the text warrants, and may be sued for libel.

London Life novels are much gayer. They deal, as a rule, with London . You may say , if you like, that they are about well-known society figures, many of whom will be easily recognisable to their friends and enemies. London Life novels are not realistic, powerful or sordid, as people in London have a wider range of entertainment and are therefore more cheerful. Besides, novels about persons who pay income tax are not realistic. And persons who pay super-tax are not considered by most reviewers real people at all.

Novels about Married Life are often ‘poignant studies of a very modern problem’ (a propos, you will find much of what you need to say kindly supplied for you by the publisher on the paper wrapper. But you must not trust blurb-writers too implicitly, for they have not, any more than you, read the book about which they blurb) …. Stories of School Life are a little passé now. But should one come your way, you can safely say that it deals once more with the problems of adolescence from a realistic angle, and that nothing us shirked, though Mr – is always restrained.

American Life may be divided into sub-sections. There are novels about Eastern America, or civilised life (perhaps by Mrs Wharton or Miss Sedgwick), Middle Western Life (which you should praise), Wild Western Life (which are about cowboys or long white trails, and published by Messrs. Hodder and Stoughton), and South American Life (which I recommend you to read, as they are probably readable).

Novels about Corpses are often readable, too. For the corpse, you should look in the library, in one of the early chapters, and there you will find the murdered body of an elderly gentleman. It is safe to say of this book that the mystery is well kept to the end (or else you spotted the murderer straight off, according as you wish well or ill to the author) and that there is a happy affair between the detective, or the suspected but innocent young man (you had better ascertain which) and the corpse’s niece, daughter, or ward (you need not ascertain which).

Novels about International Conspiracies deal with Bolshevists, and relate world-wide schemes for the overthrow of established governments and the setting up of a world dominion. You will quite soon see if a book is about this. you may safely say that the Bolshevists are bad men, and that their schemes are defeated by the intrepid hero.

Books about South Sea Islands reveal themselves at once. If you open them anyway, you will see ‘yam’, ‘bread-fruit’, ‘palm toddy’, ‘kanaka’, ‘beach-comber’, or ‘lagoon’. You can call them picturesque, romantic or exciting, or (if you feel more like it) ‘cheap lagoonery’.

Books about Love deal with a well-worn subject in a new and moving way.

Some reviewers like to be quoted by publishers in advertisements; others are shy, and do not. If you do, you should make your favourable comments detachable from the context; thus, if you desire to express distaste and yet be quoted, you may say ‘This cannot be called a really good book,’ and trust that the publishers may know which words to select. If you do not like being quoted, you should be careful to express any favourable views you may hold in a delicate and obscure way which shall elude the publisher’s grasp, and see you do not hang your laudations like cullable blossoms on a bough.

Rose Macaulay, A Casual Commentary (1925).

Now, that was rather helpful, wasn’t it? 😉



9 thoughts on “Friday Feature : On Reviewing Fiction

  1. Oh, this is brilliant! I have flicked through A Casual Commentary, but somehow missed this. What fun – thanks so much for drawing it to my attention. Macaulay is such a dry, funny essayist.


    1. I have yet to read any of Macaulay’s books in proper, but from the bits and parts gleaned from her essays, I think she is one writer whose works I will enjoy much!


  2. ‘Books about Love deal with a well-worn subject in a new and moving way.’


    I have Crewe Train by Macauley in my TBR stack and this just bumped it up the pile and added A Casual Commentary to my wishlist. 🙂


      1. See, this is how my TBR stack got so outrageously tall – I kept moving books to the top and adding more at the bottom to replace them. 😉


    1. Hi Alex, I have Crewe Train in my TBR too and am looking forward to reading it as well!
      By the way, I’m thrilled to discover your blog (after you left your comment here) as you are one of the rare and few bloggers I’ve come across who is just as fascinated with H.V. Morton’s works as I am! Your list is really impressive, compared to my mini Morton collection. 🙂


      1. A fellow H V Morton fan and a reader who is fascinated by books about books? Oh how delightful, I am so glad Simon’s link led me to your blog. 🙂

        I confess the list of Mortons is so impressive purely by chance – I struck gold in one secondhand bookshop and found eight Mortons scattered across the English topography, travel and religion sections. The gents at the counter had no idea who he was or why anyone would collect him but after watching me call my boyfriend to share the glee of tracking so many down in one visit they are now keeping an eye out for me!


        1. That is why I always think that UK is the perfect place to be for a book lover to go hunting for books. The grass is definitely greener over there! Lucky you! 🙂


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