Some would have you believe that if you’re a serious writer, you are not allowed to add questions about who is telling what story and why to the list of things we ask of a piece of fiction.
It can be hard to come up with real answers to those questions. It’s especially difficult if you aren’t doing the work of creating fully human characters, regardless of your or their identity. And it can be really, really, hard to come up against your own blindness, when as a writer, you are supposed to be a great observer. It can be terrifying to come to the realization that it is totally possible to write into this blind spot for years. Whole books, in fact whole genres of fiction, make their home in this blind spot, because of writers’ publishing community’s biases.
I am about to use a word I have never knowingly used in any review of any book ever. During my 25-odd years of writing about books I have done my best to avoid cliches, slipshod summaries, oracular pronouncements and indeed anything else that might appear emblazoned on a book jacket. Nonetheless, there is only one possible word to describe Robert Harris’s new novel, and it is this: unputdownable.
An interesting question to ask, however, is: How does that pace compare with others who write novels? Is 10 years for a 600,000-word-plus novel actually a massive undertaking? Or is it, as a matter of simple word count, a fairly standard level of output among novelists?
Whatever our problems with food criticism, the alternative is playing out in my food scene now. There are feature stories and interviews with local chefs. There are ads and events and announcements of openings. There is Yelp. But no one is holding chefs accountable. No one is consistently looking out for families like mine, or that couple Ruth met. Now if we want to know what a restaurant is like, we have to pay to find out.