Saturday, May 26, 2007

Smells like commercial fiction

The Globe and Mail, or more specifically Maggie Helwig, tears into reviewproof Khaled Hosseini whose new book, Ten Thousand Suns is essentially guilty of being a commercial novel.
Helwig's key graf is here:
"No one's emotions are too complex, and the sympathetic characters never have a reaction to which the reader can't easily relate. As appears to be mandatory in broadly commercial novels, there is great specificity in the areas of food and clothing, accompanied by a lot of vagueness elsewhere."
Up front. I've never read the Kite Runner, very likely won't read the new book and I loved Maggie Helwig's last novel.
Secondly, I'll admit fairly readily that I'm a bit tired of the noise surrounding Kite Runner.
Having said that, Helwig's review, while likely right on the money in terms of her criticism, felt a bit like slagging a McDonald's for not having a wine list.
A reference or two to the fact that Kite Runner will never be mentioned alongside Joseph Conrad is fine, but she makes the same point in pretty much every paragraph.
There are certain books that are tailored for a nice big demographic, and it shouldn't surprise many that they tend to quickly find their desired audience.
Never discount the power of a well organized book club.
Perhaps the larger issue is that a blockbuster like Kite Runner has publishers falling all over themselves to replicate it.
That may explain why Mark Haddon's second book, while generally well reviewed, didn't do as well as expected. That's only one example, but in a climate that's pretty unforgiving, Hosseini is probably smart to stay with Afghanistan, keep his characters broad and easy to handle and stretch his wings creatively once he's made his next million, as it were.
Maybe he's a lucky hack, but he's probably no dummy.
I'll damn sure read Helwig's next book, though.

Posted by Dave

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