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matter of taste

I've almost finished reading Hannah Pool's My Father's Daughter for work, and enjoying it very much (you can read an extract from it here). Pool was adopted by white parents from an Eritrean orphanage, and now writes a column for the Guardian's weekend magazine. She always thought both her biological parents were dead, but in her teens she discovered that her birth father was actually alive, and so were several siblings. The book is about her eventual journey to Eritrea and her reunion with her long lost relatives. It's a very moving story, all the more so for being told in relatively colloquial prose. So I found this review somewhat distasteful. Apparently, Pool isn't serious-minded enough to really experience her own life the way the author of the review would like. The obsession with make-up suggested by the reviewer certainly doesn't come across to me - in context, it seemed completely normal that, having arrived in a country where she could not only not understand the language but read the local script, having familiar, readable stuff from home would be comforting (in the book, Pool wishes she had more photos of her friends and family back home to make her feel less disorientated, and eventually jokingly settles for the familiar bottles in her toilet bag). And then the reviewer says that "few women, in fact, could be less suited to the hazards of travel in Africa." Why? Because she uses conditioner? Pool seems pretty brave from the book, not least because she was scared shitless before she went, but she still went anyway, and she certainly doesn't show herself to be too "girly" to actually do anything once she's there. To me, that review felt like the author was projecting her own personal priorities onto Pool, and found Pool failing to come up to the reviewer's personal standards. Which doesn't seem like a very fair way of reviewing a book to me.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 2nd, 2005 02:47 pm (UTC)
I read the extract of that book in the Guardian a few weeks ago, and found it really touching and candid, without ever being sappy. I don't think the review is all *that* bad, but I can see your point. Hannah Pool is a hell of a lot more substantial a person than any 'Bridget Jones' comparison allows for.
Aug. 2nd, 2005 02:54 pm (UTC)
It just seemed like such a lazy critique - oh, look, she's middle class and she has a fag and a glass of wine to calm her nerves before MEETING A BLOOD RELATIVE FOR THE FIRST TIME. Oh, and she wears make-up. Well, she's obviously a "black Bridget Jones". And I just hated the implication that writing in a colloquial style was somehow lazy and trashy.
Aug. 2nd, 2005 05:01 pm (UTC)
Writing colloquially is frequently very difficult due to the inevitable problems a reader will encounter later on with immediacy, dated sounding dialog, and the text sounding too casual if it's done too self-consciously.

I would suggest that writing colloquially nowhere near lazy or trashy, but really much more than it seems. It's like the difference between painting with watercolors and painting with oils!
Aug. 2nd, 2005 03:10 pm (UTC)
Doesn't she (Hannah Pool) write the make-up for black skin column in the Guardian? Hers is the only makeup writing I can read because she takes a very functional view of the products.
Aug. 2nd, 2005 03:12 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's her. I've always read her column too, for the same reason as you.
Aug. 2nd, 2005 09:41 pm (UTC)
I *love* her column. It's so much more than just makeup but it still treats makeup in a very useable fashion - I've picked up makeup tips from her and my occasional putting on slap routine has barely changed since 18!
Aug. 2nd, 2005 03:14 pm (UTC)
I agree with everything you say on that review.

I read the extract in the Guardian the other weekend and found it extremely moving.
Aug. 2nd, 2005 03:27 pm (UTC)
The Guardian really is managing smug new heights recently. Grr.
Aug. 2nd, 2005 03:40 pm (UTC)
I just read the extract (I hadn't, before) - it's so moving. The review seems really unfair.
Aug. 2nd, 2005 05:11 pm (UTC)
Also, I keep seeing a comma between "media" and "whore" in that tag, even though it is clearly NOT there upon second glance.
Aug. 2nd, 2005 05:34 pm (UTC)
Typical bloody Guardian. Don't you hate it when they write "ironic" articles about, for instance Big Brother, and why it is that everytone else (except, of course, Guardian readers) is obsessed with the latest media craze?

I read the Guardian for the same reason I read science fiction. It's escapist stuff coming mostly from people with whom I have something in common. But I almost never learn any new factual content from it.
Aug. 3rd, 2005 10:04 am (UTC)
I am so glad that I'm the only person in the office right now because I'm a little teary after reading that extract.

I have no idea what that reviewer is on about, personally. She seems to have read an exceedingly different version of the book.

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )


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