Monday, January 12, 2009

On Being Disappointing

This painting is what I did over the New Year -- I have been dithering about posting it here -- it's so very new -- but then again, I'm pleased with it and want to show it off. All of last year (it can now be revealed) I struggled with paintings. Each one was worse than the one before -- and believe me, they were BAD. It was quite funny. I would start out feeling hopeful and expectant, slash away for a couple of days and then, as I came to the end, begin to realize that once again I had pulled out a dud.


I don't usually paint in the abstract. So it's been a bit odd to go on and on doing stuff that I didn't especially like. But I'm happy with this painting and about six others which now form a set of sorts. They don't all look the same, but there's a similarity of mood. They've all been the same size -- this one is 30" x 40" -- and shape except for a couple of square ones. I would offer to post them up here but I've also just discovered that I have an active Flickr account -- my name there is Magnolia Lotus -- and have finally begun to set up a viewing site for my art work. It seems pointless to post to two places, so that's where the new ones will be too, when I get around to it. For the time being, it's only accessible to "friends" -- but if anyone here wants to visit, just post a message telling me to what address you'd like an invite sent.

And so to reviews! They continue to be largely negative -- I think it's clear now that I have written a book that the critics have felt generally underwhelmed by. I can't post links to most of the articles because I didn't catch them in time to find online links. I'm posting JPEGs of three of them, but there's a page-size in Biblio too that's interesting for the range of disappointments I caused the reviewer (I scanned it but it hasn't reproduced well, so posting it'll have to wait till I fire up the scanner again). A friend who sometimes visits this blog said she thought it was odd that I chose to include negative reviews up here but ... it's not as if I have many choices! They've been mostly bad. Not extremely so -- the Biblio reviewer for instance suggests it's worth a read, despite not being feminist or techno-savvy enough and a little too interested in pornography -- but certainly enough to cause the fur on my back to ripple with that especial thrill that comes from knowing Someone Out There Dislikes Me. Or at least, Dislikes My Work.

So ... why is it I'm not collapsing in anguish, calling up the editors of review pages and writing angry letters to the press about being mistreated (as, I believe, some authors do)? I truly don't feel anguish about the reviews. (I am smiling as I write this -- maybe that IS one of my leading flaws?) It's certainly nice to read a positive review but it's the nasty ones that I return to again and again, to feel if they still sting, if there was really that nasty word in there, if someone has yet again compared my book to someone or something that I think is fit only for the sewer. After all: positive reviews tell the author what she/he already knows -- but the negatives show me what I can't/won't see on my own, and what no friends or editors can tell me, because they either don't want to hurt me or don't see it themselves.

It fascinates me to see that what one critic dislikes most is the only thing another critic liked. I am left with the sense that the majority of those who didn't like the book wanted to find something in it -- meaning, they EXPECTED something of it -- which it didn't provide. For instance, there is an expectation (I think) that the book might offer some type of feminist message -- but of course it doesn't, since that's certainly not what I would have expected it to do. Biblio liked the internal dialogue that Meiji has with herself (though I worried they would appear idiotically childish); Man's World liked the General's radio interviews; Outlook thought the book was child-pornography; The Telegraph (no link, though I could, I suppose, post the whole text here. Maybe next time) found the whole book childISH. I liked Madhu Jain's piece in Mail Today because I think it was clear and balanced. And two reviewers picked up on the "Boojum" reference in the dedication (-- both got it slightly wrong! The final line of The Hunting of the Snark reads "... for the Snark was a Boojum, you see." -- and as it happens, the Boojum in my dedication is not a Snark at all, but a little girl, currently approaching her fourth birthday)

I could go on like this -- but I think I've probably made my point? I do enjoy reading my critics' criticisms. I don't take them lightly, I don't dismiss them and I don't look away from what they say. They give me a much clearer idea than anything else can or would of what my writing conveys, even though in their case it causes disappointment and unease. Grist for my mill. When I write a sequel -- because, yes, now I'm fairly sure I will -- it'll be with the knowledge that there are fangs and claws out there waiting to tear the next book apart, and that empowers me in a way, pumps adrenalin into my system. Yum! Onward.






10 comments:

amit varma said...

Manjula, you have an awesome attitude, and are now my role model regarding dealing with criticism. I hope I can be like this when I get slammed.

(I bet you never thought you'd one day be a role model when you were young. Too bad. Deal with it!)

Marginalien said...

Wrong again, Amit -- I fully expected to be a role-model WHEN I WAS YOUNG!!!! It's shocking how damn long this role-model thing has taken ... *muttermuttermutter*

Anyway! Maybe I should start a specialized workshop -- "How To Turn Bad Reviews Into Good Karma"? And also: your book won't be slammed. Deal with it! arf!arf!arf! (Popeye-flavoured laughter fades into the sunset)

30in2005 said...

The painting is brilliant - maybe this is the year I finally get a painting that my wall so craves......

Am saving any comments on the book till I get to India and get my hands on a copy. And not reading any reviews nagative or otherise as I will not be influenced.

Marginalien said...

Glad you liked the painting, tx, 30in2005. I wonder if you'll like any of the others. I'll tell you if/when I put them up on Flickr (and I'll send you a "friend" invite anyway).

As for the book -- well, I'm so pleased with it that nothing really gets through to me! Just another sign, I guess, that I've got impenetrable rhino-hide intead of skin.

Rockus said...

I read your book and its awesome! Hats off to you ma'am! Literary critics ma (Well, the title of this post is a bit ironic for a gushing comment though!)

Magnolia said...

Hey Rockus! Thanxus!

Shashwati said...

That is a lovely painting. And now I look forward to reading the book. Actually I really want to read it now.

Hemamalini said...

Haven't read your Escape, but would like to let you know that I madly loved every (ok, most:) of the stories of your Hot Death, Cold Soup!
I know, another drop in the ocean of admirers, but definitely Someone Out There Likes You :)

Marginalien said...

Hi Shashwati and Hemamalini -- sorry I didn't respond quicker (I usually DO respond to comments) but there's been too much background noise from the world but thank you both for your warm comments.

Hemamalini, believe me, there is no ocean of admirers ... and thank goodness coz I do better in a caustic environment than a warm and fuzzy one.

HELENE J said...

Great colours and contrasts! _ first visit here -