"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Who Will Give a Fig for Figes?

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.


Stephen Mitchelmore said...

There's a typo: "a long, laudatory book of his own book" - review, I presume.

Also, posting anonymous on Amazon isn't the same as "anonymous blogging".

Figes' is not being ruined because of the Amazon reviews but for his subsequent legal threats and blaming his wife. Polonsky and Service, whose books are pretty *popular*, have been stoical until Figes was outed. The sneering and innuendo directed at them by Jonathan Jones in today's Guardian shows that powerful, intolerant and right wing forces are trying to reassert their dominance.

Nicholas Murray said...

Thanks, Stephen, for alerting me to that typo which I have corrected. And I accept the distinction between anonymous reviews on Amazon and anonymous blogging to some extent but I remain mystified as to why anonymity (in a free medium that anyone can use without constraint) is so often chosen. I have never been able to understand that except for people working under censorship or threat.

Nicholas Murray said...

I have read the Jonathan Jones comment now and it's not what I would have argued. I think the most sinister point about this is the legal threats and that was my main point. The lawyer's letter quoted last week in the TLS was sickening: and more so now we know that the bullying letter was based on the solicitor being lied to. Harmless knockabout fun on the Amazon site is one thing. Using lawyers to silence intellectual debate is something else. The latter is what has made Figes' behaviour at best ridiculous and worst scandalous.

Jarmara Falconer said...

How interesting! I cmae across your blog by chance. I'm glad I did.
I shall add you to my list of interesting reads.

Amna K said...

There could be several reasons behind anonymous blogging. Particularly, if the person wants to be cheeky and act over-smart. That way he could leave anonymous comments under other folks' blogs. And then some people are shy and reluctant when it comes to putting their thoughts to words. They blog anonymously so their acquaintances are not able recognize them. Having said that, I absolutely do not believe in Anonymous blogging too.