Book Blurb

by John Boland

“It has interested and excited me more than any novel I have read for a number of years.” That was TS Eliot’s  considered opinion of F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and for many years it was used by Penguin as a blurb to their edition of the book.

Nowadays, though, book-jacket endorsements by famous authors have become decidedly more effusive. “Sebastian Barry’s fiction is unique and it is magnificent,” Frank McGuinness raves on the cover of The Secret Scripture; “a blockbuster, groundbreaking, heartbreaking symphony of a novel,” Frank McCourt declares of Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin; while Martin Amis deems John Banville a master whose prose “gives continuous sensual delight.”

I haven’t checked to see if Barry, McCann and Banville bothered to return the favour when their respective admirers brought out books of their own, but clearly the practice of celebrity endorsements  is thriving. However, few have approached the task with such enthusiasm as American novelist Nicole Krauss did recently with David Grossman’s new novel, To the End of the Land.

“Very rarely, a few times in a lifetime,” Krauss gushes in a blurb that’s already the cause of much snickering on the web, “you open a book and when you close it again nothing can ever be the same.” Indeed, Grossman “may be the most gifted writer I’ve ever read” – which must be distressing news for Krauss’s husband, the celebrated author Jonathan Safran Foer.

Furthermore, “to read the book is to have yourself taken apart, undone, touched at the place of your own essence.”

I’m not sure if I’d like that, or if it’s even legal, but it makes me hanker for the days when now-classic novels by Molly Keane, William Trevor, James Plunkett, Brian Moore and John McGahern (to name just a few on the shelves behind me) were published without any accompanying blurbs and had to fight for attention on their own considerable merits.

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