April 03, 2006
Letter to The New York Times Book Editor
I know. I haven't written for ages. Some of my excuses are definitely not solid. I have been busy, working hard to make Maddalena visible across the country.
The media pay tribute to the stars, and the dust is blown away. I love Sarah Dunant's novels, but occasionally, even the greatest of writers do not meet expectations, either the readers', or perhaps even their own. However, their work is evaluated, no matter what.
I didn't expect to see my letter to The Times Book Editor published. Here it is for you, my constant reader, in black and white.
To the Editor:
I wonder about Sarah Dunant’s letter to the editor (“The Her in History,” March 26) reading more as an obligatory public defense of her publisher, rather than a careful response to Erica Jong’s candid review of her book (“In the Company of the Courtesan,” March 12).
A good historical novel does not depend only on lengthy research or fine writing. In good prose, the story and characters rise above a patchwork of laboriously accumulated historical material. One wants to meet characters that compel, grow, and change. Bucino the macho narrator is, and should remain, an important focus in Ms. Dunant’s novel. But all protagonists, including the courtesan Fiametta, should open their souls to the readers, who want to get into their heads and live their lives and fates, rather than merely experiencing their exotic world.
As an aside, all reviews, good or bad, boost sales. Ms. Dunant’s publisher has no worries: her book got two in The New York Times (cf. also Janet Maslin’s “Finding Salvation in Venice, but They’re No Angels,” March 2). My historical novel “Maddalena,” based on my academic research, didn’t get any. Byrone Calame (“The Book Review: Who Critiques Whom―and Why?” Dec. 18, 2005) explains why: small-press and self-published books are instantly culled from the stack.
A time for a Times’ Journal des Refusés?
P.S. The Salon des Refusés (Salon of the Rejected) was an art exhibition in Paris. In 1863, the first Salon exhibited several important paintings, including Édouard Manet's Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) and James McNeill Whistler's The White Girl. The rest is history.
Posted by Eva Siroka at April 3, 2006 10:24 PM