Negative reviews

24th June 2012 | Books, Concerts, Reviews | 2 comments

On this morning’s ‘A Point of View’ on Radio 4, Adam Gopnik shared some amusing thoughts about how authors deal with negative reviews. He described how many authors write fierce late-night responses and reubuttals, which they’re usually dissuaded from sending. He concluded that it is much more elegant to wait a while and then write to the reviewer, innocently complimenting them on whatever they wrote next. Recognising the sender’s name as that of an author they were mean about, the reviewer will suffer a subtle torment as they start to read between the lines.

I was struck by one big difference between book reviews and concert reviews. With book reviews, an author can rely on his readers to make their own minds up about the book. The book marches on into the future.

Concert reviews are different, because a concert is over by the time the review appears. If a reviewer says it was rubbish, who is to disagree? Only those who were actually there. Most readers just have to take the critic’s word for it. The performer feels horribly powerless as they read a negative review, because the concert is in the past. There is nothing to hold up and say, ‘Well, dear readers, here it is. Make your own mind up!’

Of course, listeners can come to another concert, and a performer usually gives concerts more frequently than an author writes books. But if you disagree with what a critic writes about your concert, there’s nothing you can do about it, except to hope that it won’t deter people from coming to the next one.


  1. James

    Yes, it must be horrible to feel so scrutinized by a person who you’ve probably never met. I am a teacher in a private school and as much as I try to do a good job, there are always parents who enjoy pointing out my faults. These are usually the parents who don’t bother to come and meet with you, they just enjoy a good backstab.

    I have no expertise in drama and was once made to feel like a philistine after reading a review about a performance I’d attended at the Globe. An women-only cast performed a Shakespeare play, (All’s Well that Ends Well it might have been). I thought it was brilliant but most reviewers and friends felt that they’d wasted their time watching second rate “Shakespeare in drag”. For me, it was a lifechanging performance that over the years has enriched my life because it opened up to me the world of Shakespeare.

    I suppose what I’m trying to say is that everybody will take something different home from a concert. A jaded reviewer may well be the last person whose opinion is worth listening to.

    • Susan Tomes

      Yes, it’s a funny thing. I was at a concert last night and I met various friends, all experts, at the end. I was very struck by how different their opinions were of the performers we’d heard. We hardly agreed on anything. You’re certainly right that people take all kinds of different things away from a performance. One critic’s poison is another man’s meat!


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