It’s exactly ten years since my first novel, The Male Gaze, came out. The world of publishing and reviewing has changed radically since then. For my third novel the publishers have sent me on a virtual tour. The book will feature over the course of a couple of weeks on a dozen different blogs, where citizen reviewers, driven by an undimmed love of fiction, are free to communicate directly with like-minded readers.
The Book of Air follows the fortunes of Jason, a London property developer who lives through a virus that devastates the human population and has to work out a new way of living with a group of fellow survivors, and Agnes, a teenager in the far future, who has grown up in a community dominated by reverence for Jane Eyre.
Because of its themes, many of the blogs have a special interest in post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction. I’ve been reviewed five times so far. A couple of the reviews are lukewarm and give three stars. The rest are hugely enthusiastic. Both the lukewarm reviewers mention that they find the book confusing and hard to get into at first. One concedes that “It was very clever how Treasure put it all together.” The other, a Texan author of Young Adult fiction writes, “I was drawn to Jason’s story as I enjoy post-apocalyptic literature and the virus aspect was really interesting, even if the supporting characters got on my nerves a bit.” She also notes that “there is some strong language throughout as well as several implied sex scenes, however nothing is really graphic”, which makes me wonder if she was reviewing with young adult readers in mind. I notice also that this blog lists among its interests Amish, Christian and End Times Fiction.
All reviews are a two-way street. The reader assesses the reviewer as well as the reviewed. But in this free-market online world, I’m struck by how openly the reviewers identify their particular interests and preferences. One of the positive reviews begins like this:
For me, the Gold Standard for any dystopian novel revolves around 2 things: originality and possibility. My two absolute favorites are The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood and The Giver quartet by Lois Lowery. The Book of Air will be added to this prestigious list. This story is so clever and original that I started recommending it to friends 3% into it! (I‘dSoRatherBeReading)
Of course I’m delighted that this reviewer rates my book so highly. But it’s a particular thrill to get this response from a fellow Atwood fan.
A reviewer from Wales likes that the book champions “the power of the individual to fight against cruelty and oppression” (BooksAreMyCwtches). And one says of Agnes that she “only wants to be free to think her own thoughts and make her own choices…Jane Eyre would have been proud of her” (BookLoversBookList). The impulse to cheer on sympathetic characters in their struggle against adversity seems to me like a basic element in what makes stories enjoyable. That this book is capable of having that effect on some readers feels like a real achievement.
There’s no claim to analytic detachment in these reviews. They speak about the qualities that make you want to turn the page, or not. Being confused is bad, being intrigued is good. There’s a preference for characters you can care about, plots that draw you in. On the whole the readers would rather be uplifted than depressed. Pleasure is a high value. The style of the reviews is generally conversational, sometimes dynamically engaging.
When I figured out what The Book of Air actually was, my level of excitement skyrocketed. I don't want to spoil anything. I just can't. Seriously, such a clever twist on what humanity will deem important. The anticipation of trying to figure out the link between Jason and Agnes was torture (but in a fun emoji face kind of way) (I‘dSoRatherBeReading)