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Thursday 3 June 2010

Amazon Is Not The ACME Corporation

From time to time, writers leave their books and indulge in, sometimes furiously one-sided, spats. Wordsworth’s poetic injunction – tranquility – disappears as fast as the Road Runner in Loony Tunes cartoons.

Sometimes the difficulties of the job, a writer’s reaction to a particular set of them and to his or her relations with the buying public (see sales) and other writers and critics, goes public and postal.

Recent examples include Alain de Botton who responded vehemently (“I will hate you until the day I die”) to the writer of a poor review of his book The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, and Orlando Figes (a rather wider self-placement.)

Some simply do not transcend. I don’t remember seeing Donna Leon’s remarks on Stieg Larsson’s work in Santander last year making it into English at all. That may have been because she was being interviewed rather than writing for herself, and because she was not speaking in Spanish but being translated into Spanish.

Today, the Scotsman reports an apparent spat between someone using the name Philip Kerr and Allan Massie. Massie is a novelist and reviewer of many years’ experience. One Philip Kerr is well-known for his Bernie Gunther novels. Possibly another Philip Kerr took the time to write an Amazon review of 813 words lambasting Massie’s latest book, on the Stuarts.

Outsiders (Allan Massie himself is quoted as saying he is ‘amused’) are thus faced with one of two problems. The first is that the real Philip Kerr has had his name usurped. The second is that a professional writer has reviewed another professional writer on Amazon.

While Figes also used Amazon’s review service to decry people he considered as his rivals, this doesn’t seem to be the case here. The review, now withdrawn, specifically mentions what the reviewer considers to be unfavourable reviews by Allan Massie of the reviewer’s last two books.

Naturally, the Scotsman prints excerpts of those two reviews of novels. They suggest a falling off from earlier books. That’s Allan Massie’s opinion. In the not very widely read Scotsman.

Point? Irritation, annoyance and even hurt happen. But doing something about it has a habit of making the doer into the Coyote – a much loved cartoon character but one who relies too much on explosive products from the Acme Corporation, and invariably blows himself up. Nothing too grand. He survives.

Meep meep.

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