Monday, January 02, 2012

a nitpicking new year to you too: a review reviewed

Stephen King's fiction enjoys a large readership not just in the US but abroad and especially India. His forays have primarily been in horror and Indians love horror. He also manages to take interesting ideas, observations and characters and explore them in a rather simple welcoming style. Despite almost always working with a few genres, he manages to churn out books that are notches above the average bestseller.

Unfortunately, reviews of genre fiction in India still have miles to go before they reap. There are the unfortunately few reviews like this and then there are people who don't understand the works of Stephen King and foolishly dare to review them. It seems fit to begin my new year in this neighbourhood by ranting about a piece of fluff that, when all things are considered at Judgement Day, will be quite inconsequential. Yet, it is to griping about people and things that don't even deserve a modicum of attention that I am destined to devote my time.

The exhibit for the occasion is a review of Stephen King's recent novel 11/22/63 in the Deccan Herald by someone named Payel Dutta Chowdhury. If this public LinkedIn profile is the right one, the reviewer is a professor at Garden City College in Bangalore and also the head of the English department. This also makes a lot of what follows even more unpleasant. This is someone who should have known better.

We are off to a flying crash with the opening

Stephen King's latest magnum opus, 11/22/63, promises to be a rare juxtaposition of facts, fiction and much more.

The use of magnus opus is troubling. Does the reviewer wish to imply that King has been churning out great works for a while? There is no doubting that this is a work on a larger scale than perhaps anything that King has tried before, but have there been others?

Does anyone know any of the other rare juxtapositions of facts, fiction and much more? (I know only one: the coefficient of the linear).

The second sentence darkens the lentils even further

A master of the science-fiction genre, King's recent novel blends historical fiction and real life events.

Let's pick the grammatical nit first. Any editor worth his or her salary would have fixed this sentence. As it stands now, A master of the science-fiction genre refers not to King (as it should have) but to his recent novel. Let's now look at a problem that's arguably a more important one. I wonder if anyone familiar with Stephen King's ouevre would call him a master of the science fiction genre. It's a perfunctory label that only suggests that the writer's knowledge of King's work might be limited to a subset comprising either his works like The Gunslinger and Firestarter or absolutely nothing at all.

What follows next is a complete synopsis in précis, which reduces King's novel to basic elements of the plot, stripped of everything that actually made the novel interesting. The synopsis also pays tribute to Taran Adarsh in its completeness. It also constitutes the majority of this review. That should tell you that if you were looking for an interesting examination of the novel, if you were looking for reasons to read this novel (or not), if you were looking for a useful point of view, this is the wrong county to be in. Unless a grammatically incomplete line like Definitely, an interesting and insightful read is enough for you (in which case, just scroll down to the bottom of the page, read that line and get on with your life). The synopsis owes a lot to the Wikipedia page for the book (search for "recently-divorced high school English teacher"), King's reason for abandoning the idea in 1971 and other bits about the background of the novel (search for "price of a pint of root beer").

This brings us to the rest of the bits in the review, which, thanks to that very popular search engine called Google, were clearly swiped without attribution from elsewhere. A few bits come from Janet Maslin's review in the New York Times: the opening (which means that I must redirect my criticism above to Ms. Maslin), the premise (search for "revisit and even revise"), the description of the book's cover (search for "happy and unscathed").

With all this plagiarism, one wonders why the number of pages of the novel according to this novel (850) is different from the actual number of pages (849; 842 pages for the actual novel starting from chapter 1 and 7 pages for King's afterword). When both Ms. Maslin and the Wikpedia page agree that 849 is the right number, why would someone invent a different number? If you add the extra pages between the hard front and back and subtract the two protective thicker sheets, you get 864, which matches the number listed on the book's official site. Since no official paperback edition appears to have been released yet, the plot, as they say, only thickens.

The seemingly original contributions only offer more evidence that the amateur writings on Rediff are not alone; consider this:

King wants to remind his readers that the past does not want to be changed and in order to reaffirm his views, he examines the "butterfly effect" — a phenomenon whereby a small change at one place in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere.

Something tells me that King's novel is likely to lose a few readers thanks to this review. I only hope that the book reviews in the Deccan Herald do not have a large bunch of faithful readers.

Meanwhile, let us mourn the fact that someone got paid for this sorry piece of plagiaristic piffle.

PS: I wish someone from the New York Times would fix the date in the title of Ms. Maslin's review; the date (and the title of the book) is 11/22/63 and not 11/23/63.

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