I tend to be suspicious of book reviews in general, especially when they appear very soon after the date of publication.
Even if critics have read the tome in question (which I often doubt), I wonder whether they have really had the chance to reflect upon it fully before giving their verdict.
I know that reviewers usually get early copies to allow them more time but, I think I’m right in saying, this was not the case for J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy.
Obviously, in this case the publisher didn’t have to worry whether or not the book would sell and they also wanted to keep the content as secret as possible before it hit the streets. As a result critics and lesser mortals could start reading on the same date. Even so, the first reviews came out remarkably quickly.
I haven’t read Rowling’s novel myself so I can’t comment on how fair or accurate these early musings are but this situation did make me think of a column of ‘book notes’ in an old edition of The Idler (issue 19, late summer 1997 to be precise) where each review was followed by a letter coded system, the key to which was as follows:
R = The reviewer read the book in question.
DC – The reviewer just flicked through the opening chapter.
IDTP – The reviewer ignored due to prejudice.
CG – The reviewer decided to sacrifice a proper review in favour of a cheap gag.
In the name of honesty and transparency , wouldn’t it be great if all book reviews in newspapers and magazines were labelled in this way?