The Art of Review

It seems increasingly difficult to carry out any sort of transaction on-line without then being asked to proffer a review.  I am now expected to review at least one of the product or service, its delivery or the website itself.  Recently my energy supplier (gas and electric, rather than carbohydrates) asked me to review a recent telephone conversation – sadly, I couldn’t even remember the conversation (obviously I made a bigger impression on them than vice versa – perhaps my dream of celebrity is being realised).

As regular readers will be aware, this blog does make somewhat desultory attempts to review the arts.  I would be the first to admit that this is probably not one of my strengths but practise, as they say, makes perfect – though I would note that they don’t say how long you may have to wait.  Still, patience is supposed to be a virtue (as well as a G&S Operetta and a card game for one) so that would seem to suggest a win-win. Nevertheless, I am always on the look-out for ways to improve my reviewing…

Prior to going to the flicks this afternoon, I popped into the Central library in search of new reading matter.  In this endeavour I was successful, but as I strolled through the Quick Picks section my eye was drawn to one of the offerings displayed therein.  I seem to recall it was entitled Nudge, though whether the meat of the book went on to discuss fruit machines or winks I am uncertain (I suppose nudge may occur in other contexts – but none spring to mind).   Talking of winks, and my frequent battles with insomnia, I wonder if 40 nudges before bedtime would act as a suitable soporific?  Still, let us leave that brief excursus and return to our theme.  On its cover, this tome boasted brief extracts from two reviews – or perhaps the full extent of two very brief reviews.  One of these reviews I have consigned to the Lethe, but the other I can recall: it was from The Guardian and simply said “hugely influential”.  I think we, the viewers of the book cover, were supposed to take this as a recommendation and rush to purchase (or in my case, borrow) the book there and then.  However, it struck me that this word-pairing does not in fact form a recommendation – it is merely a statement about the impact of the book on some wider sphere.  I am sure The Guardian would be forced to admit that Adolf Hitler and the Black Death were both “hugely influential” – though I doubt it would recommend either.  A book may be complete bobbins and yet still have substantial influence.

I think there may be two lessons to be learned here:  (i) be very careful what you write in a review as a brief extract can lead people to infer almost anything, and (ii) with clever use of words you can build a review from apparently wholly positive sentiments, whilst never actually approving of or recommending the object of your regard.  (Yes, I was a sore loss to the Jesuits.)

You will, no doubt, expect me to apply this new learning to an evaluation of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”.  I fear that I will disappoint – though I can say that after the first 15 minutes, I did finally stop being reminded of “A Bit of Fry and Laurie” (which says more about me than it does about the film).  OK, I’ll admit that the film is very good – though not a date movie or for those either of a nervous disposition or in search of a bright colour palette – and does provide an opportunity to see much of the UK’s finest acting talent in one place (the 1970s).