Saturday, February 02, 2019

It was 20 years ago...

This morning I enjoyed a moment of quiet satisfaction, the kind known only to writers of rather obscure biographies. I glanced at my author page on Amazon, as I do about twice a year to see how the books are doing, and noticed something peculiar. My first book, about a then very unusual composer, was published in 1996. It used to have a princely 6 reviews. It now has 5.

It's gone. Yes! GONE! The abusive, mendacious, vicious one-star anonymous review that was the first I ever got on Amazon when it opened its "reader review" facility in 1999, is no longer there - after 20 years.

When that thing initially appeared, it was a heck of a shock - especially as it was pretty obvious to me who'd written it. After all, there was only a handful of people whom I'd told what I wanted the book to do, and who then might have had cause to go online and write an anonymous review saying that it didn't do exactly that. What is this, I thought. Anonymous reviewing? Isn't that just asking for trouble? Isn't it opening the door to all manner of revolting abuse? It makes a mockery of the whole concept of criticism...

In 1999, an abusive review was not a daily occurrence in thousands of writers' lives, but actual news. It was, indeed, such news that the Guardian interviewed me. They put in a photo of the 32-year-old me looking very grumpy (Me: "Do you want me to smile?" Photographer: "NO!") and I think it was Emma Brockes who wrote the feature, which was headed 'Trash your rivals and get away with it'. Then the Times called and asked, in a gentle, confiding tone, "As a matter of interest, who do you think it was?" I told them I wasn't going to say, in case I was wrong.

But that review sat there, and sat there, and sat there. Others appeared, seeming satisfied with the book, which was nice. But Mr One Star still crouched on the site like a sodding great spider, glaring at me with its compound eyes and eight spiky, hairy legs, and there was nothing on earth I could do about it.

Except now, it's gone. It has only taken 20 years.

I like to think about how different the world in general might be today if people had not had anonymity on the internet. Think about it. Just think about it.