You may recall, the last time I discussed the German reception to The Dead Women of Juárez, that readers were largely pleased, but there were a few outliers. Major objections to the book were that it featured too much Spanish-language dialogue — a point made in a few English reviews — and that the violence was too intense. As I’ve said many times over the many months since The Dead Women first released, I have taken the Spanish-language criticism to heart and have dramatically reduced the presence of such things in my subsequent manuscripts. The violence, for better or ill, is here to stay. The places I write about are violent places, full of terrible people, and I have a duty as an author to depict that in my fiction.
I wasn’t sure how the critical community in Germany viewed the book, though it didn’t look good. Der Spiegel posted a pretty negative review in which they did the one thing that irritates me the most: they referred people to Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, as if a literary novel and a crime novel were roughly equivalent in purpose or intended audience. I was stung, as you can imagine.
Anyway, it turns out I need not have worried too much about what the critics were saying, because most places hadn’t printed their reviews yet. This morning Klett-Cotta’s press department sent me a beefy PDF with many, many positive reviews. Some are short, but some are quite in-depth, and if you want to read them for yourself, you need only click through. They are, of course, all in German, so if you don’t read/speak the language you’re in for a bewildering time.
As you can imagine, I am very pleased. I was proud that every review from every paper and magazine in the UK that received a copy of The Dead Women reviewed it positively, and while I can’t lay claim to a perfect game in Germany, I can at least know that the overwhelming majority liked the book and recommended it to their readers.
There’s some question of how useful such reviews actually are. In the United States it seems that word-of-mouth is far more important in the marketing of successful books, as many readers place the most stock in sites like Goodreads and Amazon, which aggregate reader reviews. In Europe the story is somewhat different. They still have access to the same sites — there are some reviews in German on Goodreads, for example — but media outlets have a bit more sway. I am not opposed to reviews by “the little people,” especially since I do such reviews myself on a regular basis, but I think there’s something to be said for looking to professionals who know books intimately. Maybe the average reader has more in common with another average reader, but pro reviewers sometimes have insights into the material that might not be forthcoming in something jotted down on Amazon.
At any rate, The Dead Women of Juárez has the warm reaction I was hoping for. Now I just have to wait and see how the French like it.