Peter Kemp gave a class on reviewing literary fiction at Somerset House.

Top Tips

  • Bear in mind that a review is a balancing act – between reporting and commentary, fact and analysis, information and lively writing.
  • Always read with a pencil in hand – not just to mark a novel’s striking features, but also to note factual data (characters’ ages, locations etc) that might come in useful when you’re writing your review.
    Always remember, when you’re reviewing a novel, that what you’re looking for won’t be fully determined until you’ve finished the book.
  • Jot down points you want to make, and organise them into the most effectively streamlined order. Remember that concision is paramount. Space on books pages is always tight. Every bit of a review should earn its keep. Don’t bring in too much quotation (and be careful not to misquote or mislead by quoting out of context).
  • Remember that almost no one reading your review will have read the book you’re writing about, so some plot-orientation will be necessary. But avoid extensive story-telling, and never give away anything that will spoil an author’s suspense or surprises.
  • Don’t regard praising books that aren’t much good as an act of generosity. It may be to an author but it isn’t to potential readers.
  • Have a break after writing the first draft of your review – ideally, a day or so. What can be removed, phrased more crisply, accurately, vividly or interestingly will be more apparent when you look at the piece again.
  • Aim for an enticing opening line and a neatly conclusive final one. Enjoy yourself writing what comes between them.