There's a really, really bad review on Amazon of Undine. Actually it's not such a bad review as a wounded, outraged diatribe. I would link to it, or quote from it, but I can't actually get onto Amazon from my home computer due to some problem with our provider (I can't get onto ebay either - it's actually quite restful). Anyway, it's been on my mind since I read it yesterday. I have been lucky to get mostly good reviews for Undine. Of course there have been some perfectly reasonable criticisms, but most of them have been intelligent and thoughtful, and generally it's because they've wanted a different sort of book, a good book, but not the book I set out to write. These people have been polite enough to point out what Undine gets right before drawing attention to their perceived shortcomings. But the rant on Amazon is from a different kind of reader. He/she feels like I entered some kind of contract to write the book in a particular way and is howling because I failed. He/she clearly feels some kind of personal grievance because the book is not the book he/she wanted. Aspects of the book others have loved he/she is bitter about. This person wanted a book about families and instead got a book where family, friends and relationships are intermingled. They seem to think it's an incredible weakness of the story that Undine's magic is so directly linked to her sexual identity. But this is my book, and Undine is a part of me, born of my experiences, my views, values, my enchanted debris, my internal narratives. Undine's magic is linked to her sexual identity because my first experience of my own power (after I'd lost the supreme power of childhood) was linked to my sexuality. The amount of feedback I've had from adult readers suggests I am not alone in this experience.
And yet why the wounded outrage? I've decided to take it as a compliment. A warped scary don't ever send me flowers laden with poisoned insects kind of compliment. But the only reason that person would get on there and write such a long incensed review is if for some reason he/she believes the book is (or could have been) important in some way. Generally if I read a fairly crappy, disappointing book I don't then get onto Amazon and rage eternal about just how crappy and disappointing it was. I just put it down (probably without finishing it these days) and move on. But for some reason this person thought they would find something in Undine. For some reason the absence of that something has left a wound and rage in them. That's not actually my fault. Of course it's possible they just thought it was a bad book and that's okay too.
Gwen Harwood said something about how you can't pin a note to a poem and say 'this is a good child' when you send it out into the world. As a mother now, I triply understand that anguish. When Martin is out with Frederique and she throws a tantrum and knocks his glasses of his face, he is embarrassed. He worries that other people will think he's not in control of the situation. When she does it to me, I worry that other people won't like her. And I feel the same about Undine. As much as I'd like to stick up for it now and tell you all about why it's a good book really, it just has to make her own way in the world, occasionally making enemies in its journey to find other people who will understand it and, occasionally, love it for what it is, not the book it could have been.