It's not like I wasn't expecting it. You can't publish a book nowadays - you can't publish a blog, a tweet, or a picture of a piglet sunbathing, which was adorable, FYI - nowadays without receiving unsolicited online 'feedback'. I use this term loosely. I was aware that with my first novel due for publication in mid-May, the comments would soon start a'coming; I just wasn't expecting them to have a'come already and to stumble across a review whilst I was looking for cat vine - doing serious, serious research.
I don't know how this woman in America got hold of a copy of my manuscript; some of the UK press hasn't read it yet, so right away I had her pegged as scurrilous. I didn't know who she was, and I still don't; perhaps she is a journalist or works in media, I have no interest in knowing. She'd posted her appraisal on a well-known book reviewing site which, as far as I'm aware, is open to anyone with a passion for books and time on their hands. I hesitate to say too much.
In total, I have now read her review three times: the first time was an accident, borne out of shock and my own moronic puzzlement that perhaps someone with my name had written the same book. The second time followed immediately after the first and was necessary to entrench what I had forgotten since the first read (almost all of it). The third came two days later, when I was calmer, and therefore able to shout at my laptop screen.
The problem was not that what my reviewer had written was negative - although she described the central character as 'interesting enough'. The book is non-fiction. I am the central character.
The problem was that I thought what she'd written was right.
The two main points with which she took umbridge were:
1. My book was a hair's width away from being 'misogynistic'.
2. She thought I was neurotic.
Her first point was not alien to me. On occasion, as I was writing, I found myself going for the cheap laugh at the expense of another girl (although the amount of cheap laughter I aimed at men is legion). Sometimes the joke was necessary, sometimes not, and as I painstakingly edited, re-edited then re-re-edited, I took those stupid jokes out, for I am a feminist of the Moranic creed (as in Caitlin, if that's not clear) and to you, Reviewer Lady, I say, BACK OFF. Though I feel it is a false levy, it stung, and I fretted that it was an issue I had not gone far enough to redress.
Her second point was the one that really got me, however. To expound: she said my neuroses became monotonous, that I complained of problems without looking for solutions and was essentially like her - except when she was much younger, and clearly much more stupid and annoying.
The truth is, I can be neurotic. I can be whiny. I do have a tendency to over think things and focus too ardently on the negative. In short, I am often all the things she had condemned me as being and I panicked that I had not produced a funny, light-hearted story about dating on Tinder but a watertight case for my seeing a therapist. And in light of my reviewer's comments, I did what any self-respecting adult would do: I poured over my now printed manuscript, pinpointed every example of my neurotic behaviour, and promptly burst into tears.
I know now that this Reviewer Lady is not right...but neither is she technically wrong. Her comments fall into the right/wrong hinterland of 'opinion' and everyone who reads my book will have one. The reason none of us should read our reviews is not because we might disagree with them, and hence feel powerless in our right to reply, but because it is all too easy to get swayed from your own understanding of what you hoped to convey. Creativity is subjective; it is meant to inspire sentiment in those who engage with it. But as creators it is up to us to speak our truth (bleugh, sorry) and then own it, otherwise we are simply creating a void into which the lazy, ignorant and just plain mean will spit their vitriol. You might know this void by its more colloquial name, Twitter.
I wouldn't recommend you read that either.
Rosy Edwards is the author of Confessions of a Tinderellahttp://www.randomhouse.co.uk/editions/confessions-of-a-tinderella/9781780893877, out May 21st 2015.