I just read James Wood’s review of Frederick Brown’s Flaubert: A Biography, which appeared in this week’s New York Times Book Review. It is 3,250 words long, of which only three hundred make any mention of the book Wood is allegedly reviewing, from which he quotes only a half-sentence, though he finds room to refer to Stephen Crane, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Saul Bellow, John Updike, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and hip-hop. Am I the only person out here in the ‘sphere who considers this the wrong way to go about reviewing an important new biography of a major author in a widely read publication?
I’m not saying I haven’t committed the same critical crime on occasion–I’m sure I have, and I’m sure somebody will be pointing that fact out to me in fairly short order–but this piece strikes me as an especially egregious case in point. Brown’s Flaubert is a remarkable biography, maybe even a great one. It doesn’t deserve to get lost in the shuffle of its own reviews.