What Amazon doesn't want you to know.

Gentle uk.tech.electronic-security reader,

First, my apology for cross-posting to this NG. Be assured that this is a one-off. It will never happen again.

My sole purpose is to draw your attention to what I believe are dubious practices by Amazon.co.uk. I also believe that at stake here is freedom of expression.

Amazon have rejected my reader review of a novel by John McGahern. In the UK and Ireland it was published under the title, "That They May Face The Rising Sun". In the USA and elsewhere it's entitled simply "The Lake".

You may have read it. You may even have thoroughly enjoyed it.

That is not the issue. The issue is that Amazon refuse to publish my review. First, they ignored it. When it failed to appear, they fed me the excuse of their moderators being too busy to read it. Next they insisted (three times) that it did not comply with their review guidelines.

I copied their guidelines to my Amazon correspondent and asked her to specify the guidelines with which my review did not comply. She replied that she could not be specific.

When I threatened to expose Amazon on the net, they relented, and said that my review broke two of their rules. (It did not.) But I amended it, and you can read it below. You'll see that, although it's critical, there are other reviews on Amazon.co.uk that are far more critical than mine.

So what's going on? Have they done a deal with McGahern's publisher? It would not surprise me; the book trade has became increasingly corrupt. Why do you think that only a small number of books get reviewed in the papers ? and that they're the same books in each paper? Because they're the best books at that moment? Think again.

Read the actual READER reviews on Amazon and see how they compare with the newspaper reviews. You will read lines like: "I bought this book because I believed all the hype. I was very disappointed."

We are being conned.

Anyhow, I dutifully submitted the amended review, with the assurance that it would appear within 5 days. It did not.

The astute reader will understand that this could continue ad nauseam, with Amazon trying to wear me down so much that I would give up and forget it.

I won't. Free speech and free expression are at issue here. Amazon now control something like 80% of book sales worldwide. They have killed the small bookseller. Soon the medium-sized book store will follow, and Amazon will have a monopoly.

At that point they can do anything they please. Try posting a very critical book review then!

Sincerely, and my apologies again for the cross-posting!

Margaret Shiels


[The review Amazon didn't want you to see:]

When MIGHT is right.

In his Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul wrote of "those who are being lost, because they didn't receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. (2:10)"

What a shame that John McGahern didn't read his Scripture with a little more diligence; had he done so, he might not have botched the grammar in the very title of his book, and might instead have called it: "That They MIGHT Face the Rising Sun". If the poor English had ended there then all might have been well. As it is, when one gets past the title page, it's all downhill.

The novel provides clear evidence that, once a writer's book is denounced by the Catholic Church, all subsequent work will be praised as literature. We need only think of the frightful Edna O'Brien....

And literature is what this book clearly is not, at least not when it's read objectively, without the baggage of the encomia that have attached themselves to McGahern over the years, like limpets on a whale's buttocks.

It's terrible. I could not get beyond page 36. I tried; I genuinely did. The lacklustre prose is indistinguishable from that of Alice Taylor ? in fact Taylor's outdoes McGahern's quite often. There is a myth, no doubt put about by McGahern himself, that he overwrites excessively, then prunes remorselessly. If that's the case, then the out-takes of "TTMFTRS" must have been excruciatingly bad.

He has no style, plain and simple ? indeed I'd have preferred "plain and simple" rather than McGahern's weak and often cringe-making attempts at style. The English language seems foreign to him. It's English for Beginners, the vocabulary of the semi-educated. And one would think, to read McGahern, that Peter Mark Roget had never drawn breath. "Sure why use synonyms," he must reason, "when the one verb can be made to serve every situation?" Everybody "walks" for example; no sauntering, hastening, loping, striding or what have you. Clichés proliferate, and inept ones at that: a bird drops "like a stone" (the only time I ever saw a bird dropping like a stone was when my husband let fall a frozen chicken in the supermarket).

All the characters speak with the same, dull, interchangeable voice. Nor does the dialogue always ring true; at one point, for example, a country person speaks the line, "None of us believes and we go", a usage I've never encountered in rural Leitrim.

McGahern cannot write characters that engage me. Because all speak with the same voice, it was difficult to choose between them, and as a result, no one character held my attention.

His narrative is even worse than his dialogue: "His eyes glittered on the pot as he waited, willing them to a boil." Classic Alice Taylor, that. I flipped through the pages and chose passages at random. There were no fine words or interesting turns of phrase that merited a mention. In fact, all I found was mediocre writing, hardly better than anything a schoolchild could write. And the syntax! Even that infamous torturer of English syntax Anita Desai could do no worse than: "The Shah rolled round the lake with the sheepdog in the front seat of the car every Sunday and stayed until he was given his tea at six."

The dust jacket quotes the Observer; evidently it hailed McGahern as "Ireland's greatest living novelist". Whoever wrote that should hang his/her head in shame, and apologize at once to ... well, to everybody really; such poor writing as this does Ireland no favours.

If I am wrong, and there truly is a great novel lurking between the covers of this book, then why on earth bury it beneath such dreadful prose? I honestly tried to allow this novel to grip me, but it failed dismally. Should I have persevered simply because it was written by "the finest Irish writer now working in prose"? The hell I should! Two out of ten, and that's being generous.

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Margaret Shiels
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