A Good Read (June 19th 2012)
Tim Winton’s Dirt Music admittedly has some atmospheric value, lashings of literary ambition and more themes than you can count on the fingers of both hands, but perhaps I hadn’t better get into the flaws as perceived by me. Suffice it to say that the panel on this week’s Good Read was more impressed than I was. Bizarrely the only fault that was acknowledged by said panel were the alleged ‘literary’ qualities. Does a punctuation tic really constitute literariness? Playing with tenses certainly does, but is also, arguably, one of the more successful aspects of the novel.
More interesting (in my opinion) was the connection between JL Carr’s How Steeple Sindleby Wanderers Won the FA Cup and Alain Mabanckou’s African Psycho. The connection is, obviously, owls. These are both books which provide classic targets for owl criticism.
The phrase ‘owl criticism’ was coined to describe a kind of review which focuses on the reviewer’s position relative to the subject of a novel, while failing to describe the mechanics of the novel.
With Owl Criticism, you have statements like, “This book has an owl in it, and I don’t like owls.”
The guests and host avoided the owl criticism trap for the most part, despite citing a profound disinterest in football, which I share. They were able to override an averse reaction to an unappealing subject, to find humour, and a deeper commentary on country communities. African Psycho proved more challenging, with a glimpse into the workings of a potential psychopath through the revelations of his twisted fantasies. Both guests were uncomfortable with this subject, although Ms Gilbert discerned a satire which justifies the content. The guests seemed to feel that the novel needed to be directed more towards the education of the West, which was a rather disturbing reaction to African literature, but that’s another story.
African Psycho is a novel which I could read, but despite the glowing approbation that JL Carr attracts out on the blogosphere, there is little that could persuade me to read a whole novel set in the context of football. Owl criticism is not a good thing but, given an ever increasing list of books demanding to be read, for book selection the owl criterion might have its place.