Until a few years ago, critics were regarded as an unpleasant elite, dedicated to sniping at their superiors. Many authors held them in contempt.
‘Asking a playwright how he felt about critics was like asking a lamp post how it felt about dogs,’ observed the witty playwright Christopher Hampton.
But then came social media. Nowadays, anyone and everyone can be a critic, and authors have discovered that the amateurs can be far less forgiving than the professionals.
‘Not my favourite book, I find Henry James a bit long-winded,’ writes a reviewer called Smileyp about The Portrait Of A Lady on the Amazon website.
She then explains: ‘I had to buy this book for my degree course, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have bought it. In saying that there is plenty of notes inside to help with degree.’
Thanks to the internet and social media, nowadays, anyone and everyone can be a critic, and authors have discovered that the amateurs can be far less forgiving than the professionals
She awards The Portrait Of A Lady just one star, even though professional critics tend to regard it as Henry James’s greatest masterpiece.
Other Amazon customers agree with Smileyp. ‘Far too long and wordy ruined my christmas on and on and on,’ complains one. Another heads her two-star review: ‘SOO boring.’
Smileyp proves more generous when she’s reviewing household items, awarding five stars both to a sleeping bag (‘This will keep you warm camping, no problem’) and a plastic laundry basket (‘Really flexible and just what I wanted’).
Like Smileyp, most Amazon reviewers do not confine themselves to books. Having dished out one star to Hilary Mantel or Charles Dickens, they move swiftly on to their next purchase, whether it’s a floral cushion or a box of drawing pins.
Quite a few are dissatisfied with everything they purchase. A Mr W Wyvern awards just two stars to a Soki Quartz Military Army Sport Men’s Watch, though it cost only £2.30. ‘Pros — very cheap. Cons —Unreliable … It kept losing time.’
Mr Wyvern feels even cooler towards the 5-litre can of Ronseal Patio and Block Paving Seal, giving it a meagre one star. ‘I came back after 4 hours to find my patio was ruined.’
Nor is he pleased with a bumper pack of 50 ‘Paws Paradise’ British Grade A Dried Pigs’ Ears, for his dog. ‘Stink and Give my Dog the squits,’ reads his no-nonsense review, which might justifiably be called a stinker.
I wonder if providers of pigs’ ears brood over their bad reviews, just like authors.
Having gone to the trouble of removing the ear and drying it and packaging it and sending it out, it must be disheartening to be rewarded with a paltry one star.
If Amazon reviews prove anything it’s that, just like books, pigs’ ears can divide opinion
Another Amazon customer, Amanda Livesey, is also dissatisfied — perhaps ‘disgruntled’ would be more appropriate — with her pigs’ ears, mainly on account of their size.
Her review is a bubbling stream-of-consciousness, free of punctuation. ‘I bought these thinking they were large pigs ears judging from the pics they looked to be a decent size when they arrived I was shocked it looks to me like they have cut a pigs ear in to 4 they are that small and thin complete waste of money when I contacted the seller to let him know the z quality of my purchase I was basically told what did I expect of course they are cut into pieces…’
The Amazon reviewer ‘Dean’ is similarly upset with his pigs’ ears. ‘They are tiny fine for a chihuahua maybe. Def avoid really not value for money. Me and my 4 dogs are disappointed.’
On the other hand, he reports that his girlfriend is thrilled to bits with the Large American Candy Hamper he ordered for her. ‘GF is over the moon with this box, exactly as described … she showed me how pleased she was last night!!’
Just like books, pigs’ ears divide opinion. The Amazon reviewer ‘Loretta’ gives the same brand five stars. ‘I have bought lots of pigs ears from different sellers and my dogs wouldn’t touch them but these are great and they find them very tasty. They come in halves which is ideal for smaller dogs.’
Clearly a sunny character, Loretta also awards the full five stars to a set of Royal Albert Ceramic Spoons, a Head Jog Paddle Brush, and a Marie Nero Pink Dress. She also loves an Oven Glove With Cats On. ‘This is a really nice oven glove with cats on,’ she purrs approvingly.