EDIT: Ah, Vintage Will… Here’s a post from the back catalogue, not exactly my finest hour. Reviews are important, good or bad… The good ones inspire you to keep writing, and the bad ones inspire you to get better (once you get past the ‘assuming the foetal position and crying into your body-shaped pillow’ part). Obviously, I wrote the post below when I wasn’t quite past the assuming the foetal position part. As much as I want to delete it every time I see it in my feed, I think it’s a nice reminder to myself to never, ever chuck a tanty like this again. Bloggers and reviewers play such an important role in our industry, you don’t just champion authors’ work, you provide us with important feedback, you reassure us, you challenge us. And the last thing you deserve is 1000 words like the below. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to give Will From 2011 a stern talking to.
I stumbled on an especially negative review of Loathing Lola this morning (it only scored one love heart out of a possible five) and I shared it with friends. Laughs were had, mostly at my expense, then one of my mates (loyalty +1, career helpfulness -20) posted his thoughts anonymously on the reviewer’s blog. As a reviewer who’s had the FOWs (friends/family/fans of the writer) come at me with anonymous comments, and someone who’s heard about particularly prickly FOW experiences, I have to stress, before I continue, while I will link to the review, please don’t bombard the blog post (mine, or the reviewer’s) with negative, anonymous comments.
As a reviewer and a lover of textual analysis, I love discussing works, and, as a former third-speaker debater, challenging others’ reactions to them. But let’s keep it about the words, not the person.
English was my favourite subject in high school, so much so that when it came to university, completing an English major was a no-brainer. To say I quickly became disenchanted with it is understating the fact, considerably. Why? The over-readers. Not only did they waste tutorial time to offload their ridiculous textual interpretations, filled with big words that end with -ism, but they were applauded for their interpretations.
I remember a Third Year once claimed all of Shakespeare’s plays were ultimately about homosexuality and the transgender condition. Yes, we’ve all read Sonnet 20, we know Mr Shakes has dealt with male-male attraction, but seriously… this is drawing the bow exceptionally long. I was mortified, I turned to the tutor, expecting the Third Year to get shut down, but no, the tutor nodded encouragingly.
The Third Year then pointed out that all the women were played by men on stage. I was stumped. These were the theatrical conventions of the time! While yes, I’ll concede that some elements would have played very differently with males inhabiting the female roles, it doesn’t impact the meaning of the text itself, in much the same way that Eddie Murphy playing overweight women in The Klumps doesn’t make it a commentary on contemporary transgendered life.
Over-readers are everywhere. Some are at uni, some are at the movies, some are in libraries, and some have blogs. And sometimes, we need to save texts from them. Sometimes, we need to save texts we spent the majority of our life crafting…
I’ll be honest, reading it, I was baffled. The reviewer acknowledged the novel’s major themes (misrepresentation of ‘reality’ in reality TV and manipulation more broadly in the media), but then, saw the novel’s representation of females as overshadowing/contradicting the message:
Kostakis’s characters are just as stereotypical and anti-feminist as those presented by television programs such as ‘Big Brother’. His protagonist is fine – if rather dull – but the women around her are highly problematic… So many of my issues with this book were explained when I discovered that the author was only nineteen when it was published… This is a boy’s view of women and girls, poorly hidden behind a female protagonist.
Love the way the reviewer deftly (and without apparent irony) explains away the novel’s “problematic” representation of women by noting my gender and age. I mean, no seventeen-year-old, let alone a seventeen-year-old boy, could possibly have purposefully littered his novel with stereotypical representations of both men and women, showing a reality filled with ‘reality TV’-style personalities in a bid to challenge the definition of ‘reality TV’ as representative of reality.
What makes Lola‘s representation of women different to, say, Twilight‘s representation of men (which readers of my blog will know I had a massive problem with)? Perspective. Since its release, I have stressed that Loathing Lola is a satire, and the tone, from the first chapter, establishes it as a heightened reality, teetering the fine line between absurdity and reality. Where Twilight was, as Stephanie Meyer has said, based on a ‘dream’, a fantasy, encouraging girls to fight over which kind of abusive boyfriend (muscled or thin) they liked more, Loathing Lola was me venting about the dumbing down of TV, and my own fears that it would leak into reality, that the behaviours represented would be idolised, and then, reinacted. The book is my fear, realised. The characterisation within the novel isn’t a contradiction of its message, but rather, a way to make it more emphatic.
It’s also used to emphasise that manipulation sometimes goes both ways (in the same way that the media can misrepresent their subjects, their subjects can misrepresent themselves). Look at Courtney. The point is, her life is great reality TV fodder, filled with ready-for-reality-TV characters. The novel documents her attempts to suppress her own reality, hiding its entertainment value from the production company. She’s active in constructing her own televised identity. She wants to appear wholesome.
But the truth is, she’s not. The big problem with the review is that it there is no distinction between protagonist and author. I may have written the words on the page, but they are written as Courtney. Courtney speaks the prose. It’s a massive contradiction, Courtney is “fine”, if not “dull”, but the musings of the prose are anti-feminist. Her jibes at the expense of socio-economic status and weight are dismissed not as hers, but those of a boy, me. Sure, they’re at odds with her outward character, but look at her initial interview with the producers. In the beginning, she is restrained, her answers are rehearsed, she carefully constructs her identity, even before the cameras are rolling. It is dull. Then she unleashes, she breaks from the script, and she is mean. The novel is, for the most part, her actively controlling others’ perception of her. She is speaking, and at the same time, she is skirting over the less-rosey details, like her participation in the Waah-Waahs, by condemning it (and painting less-likeable pictures of Chloe and Katie).
But that all said, the representations are still not anti-feminist. Yes, the novel is littered with antagonistic females. They aren’t antagonistic because they’re females, they just happen to be both female and antagonists, much like Chloe happens to be both overweight and mean, and Lola happens to be both shallow and (according to the reviewer) lower class. There are very few people, male or female, who Loathing Lola depicts in a good light.
Maybe, if you don’t like a character, you were never supposed to.
Or maybe, it’s just some nineteen-year-old boy, without an editor to properly remove the immaturity of both style and characterisation, being anti-feminist.