The recent "squalid little story" as Robert Service put it, of the writer Orlando Figes paying lawyers to silence other writers who had alleged someone was rubbishing his rivals' work on Amazon – before he then first blamed his wife then admitted he was the culprit – is a very nasty one and will have ruined his reputation for good. Obviously anyone who takes an anonymous Amazon review seriously has got problems that they need to address for themselves but the case does highlight two things (a) writers should conduct their intellectual disputes with each other in the fresh air of print and not in the courtroom and (b) anonymous blogging (something that mystifies me) has no intellectual validity in serious criticism of books: someone who is too cowardly even to stand by their own words cannot expect to be taken seriously by anyone.
This reminds me of a review (not anonymous) that appeared on Amazon in 1999 when my life of Andrew Marvell was published. It wasn't vindictive, just vaguely sneering, and contrasted with the very pleasing reviews the book received generally. Since no other Amazon review ever appeared this slab of disparagement has stood on the site for eleven years to confront anyone thinking of buying the book and will, no doubt, remain there across the "deserts of vast eternity". At the time, I entered the name of the self-appointed reviewer into a search box and up popped a long, laudatory review of his own book – written by himself. Now why didn't I think of that?
My fault in this instance was to have written a book about a 17th Century poet without seeking permission from the relevant academic 17th Cent. Lit. trade guilds and annoying an ambitious would-be media don on the rise by writing the book he wanted to be commissioned to write. I am always amused by academics who sneer haughtily at the general Grub Street author then go running as fast as their little legs will carry them into the nearest TV studio or literary festival tent if there is the slightest chance of being on the telly.