Thursday, August 30, 2007

WARWICK ROGER, NEW ZEALAND'S OWN GRUMPY OLD MAN

Warwick Roger has always been something of a cynical contrarian and I guess when you are a journalist that is not necessarily a bad thing but my goodness he has morphed into a truly grumpy old man. And what is worse he seems to now regard himself as the New Zealand authority on all matters journalistic and literary.

This is a great pity as he has a fine record as a journalist having won many awards particularly for sports writing and feature articles.
And although we Aucklanders perhaps owe him some gratitude for founding METRO magazine back in the 80's I have long grown tired of the pomposity and bombast and sweeping generalities of his writing in recent years.

Until now I have kept my views on his writing to myself, because of respect for his journalistic record, but I'm afraid his most recent outburst in the August issue of NORTH & SOUTH magazine is the final straw and I must speak out.

Here is part of what he has to say on page 98 as part of his column, The Best of New Zealand Books:

I usually bridle when a new book of New Zealand fiction lands on my desk for review. Most New Zealand fiction is crap. There are certainly no more than 10 honourable exceptions among authors currently writing.

What an absolutely ridiculous and insulting comment to make. I suggest to Warwick Roger he wouldn't know a good work of fiction if it bit him on the bum!

I'm not in my office as I write this so do not have access to my library but here are a few names of "honourable exceptions" just off the top of my head:

Maurice Gee, Owen Marshall, C.K.Stead, Lloyd Jones, Witi Ihimaera, Alan Duff, Patriacia Grace, Jenny Patrick, Kevin Ireland, Shona Koea, Kapka Kassabova, Chad Taylor, Catherine Chidgey, Charlotte Grimshaw, Graeme Lay, Marilyn Duckworth, Elizabeth Smither, Albert Wendt, Barbara Else, Chris Else, Joy Cowley, Fiona Kidman, Vincent O'Sullivan, Stephanie Johnson, Elizabeth Knox, Emily Perkins, Keri Hulme, Rosie Scott, Peter Wells, Sarah-Kate Lynch, Sarah Quigely, and among the newcomers Paula Morris, Rachael King, Carl Nixon, Paul Shannon, and James George.
There are 36 authors whose work I admire (and I'm sure I'll think of more) so presumably Warwick Roger would remove at least 26 of these as he regards their writing as crap?

I would remind you that he was the Chair of the Goodman Fielder Book Awards (now Montana NZ Book Awards) back in 1984 when famously the judges did not award a prize to The Bone People which of course went on to become one of the most significant novels ever published in New Zealand and to win the Booker Prize the following year.
So much for his judgement.

To have someone with his attitude to local writing being responsible for the book review pages of a major national magazine is shameful. It is time he was put out to pasture.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

He's a bitter, grumpy old man. I don't even bother reading anything he writes anymore....it's not worth the paper it's written on.

Peter Wells said...

Graham, I did see his comments. I usually pick up N& Sth and read it standing in the supermarket, chortling at Roger's horrid
acid take on things. His review of Shonagh Koea's memoir was typical. Nine eighths of the book was dyspeptic in the extreme. It came as a complete surprise
that he actually enjoyed the book at the very end of the piece.
It's a strange business. NZ film used to be despiced in the local marketplace. The words 'NZ film' were actually seen as a giant turn off for the local audience.
That has now changed. International success meant local audiences began to 'like' local films.
But it seems there is still a time lag with NZ fiction. But all it needs is one significant international hit and everybody local falls into line.
Maybe the Jones boy will do it with 'Mr Pip'.
It's one of the things with post-colonialism that international appreciation seems to be the avenue through which locals discover their own country.
Sad but true.
I think Warwick Roger's strength lies in nonfiction. Possibly he should hand fiction over to someone who actually relishes the beast.

Bookman Beattie said...

I have been inundated with names of authors I had omitted which doesn't surprise me. Three names that have been mentioned by three or more individuals are Philip Temple, Barbara Anderson and James McNeish whom I am happy to add to my list.

Anonymous said...

So glad that you responded to this. It’s a pity more people haven’t.

Anonymous said...

I did see it and thought it was unprofessional for a reviewer, not true and rather nasty.

Lee said...

I was amazed that his tawdry piece about paul holmes in a previous edition was published. Pathetic schoolboy nastiness, or some kind of in-joke between the two of them? I don't know. Don't care either. Either way it was crap. Wouldn't read his stuff anymore either.
Lee

Anonymous said...

Critics of Warwick Roger might be interested in this post:

http://lucaantara.blogspot.com/2007/08/warwick-roger.html

by NZ writer Martin Edmond

Bookman Beattie said...

Thanks for this piece by Martin Edmond. MOST interesting.

Minor Key said...

Graham, I couldn't agree more with this post. Working as a publicist for a publisher over the last few years, I have dreaded reading his NZ fiction reviews. Besides being facile and unnecessarily cruel, they are extremely lazy. I am astounded that North and South are nominated for Best Review Pages at the Montanas each year (this year even instead of the Dominion Post), as their local book reviews destroy any credibility for me. I support reviewers critcising fiction in a constructive and intelligent way - I think this is necessary for our industry - but he should leave this to Paula Morris and David Eggleton etc. His bitterness has no place here.

Bookman Beattie said...

Thanks Minor Key.
Just for the record the finalists in the Best review Pages section of the Montana NZ Book Awards were The Listener, Metro, and Sunday Star Times.
You make the point about the laziness of his reviews.You may be interested to know that I have received over 40 e-mails on the subject of WR's reviewing since I posted the item yesterday and 11 of them refer to his laziness in reviewing.

Anonymous said...

You know what’s interesting about his comment – he says he bridles every time a book lands on his desk. That is, he’s predisposed to dislike it, taking against it before he’s even read it. He hates the very notion that New Zealand writers are publishing books!

Anonymous said...

What do we make of this bloke then?
http://nzbookmonth.co.nz/blogs/spiro_zavos/archive/2007/06/19/1218.aspx

Equally sad?

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you about Warwick Roger. His reviews are not worth reading. Another great NZ author to add to your list is Ruth Pettis.

Mick Mason said...

For the record, Warwick Roger was never the founder of the Metro magazine.He was Metro's first editor. I should know because I along with Bruce Palmer and Clive Curry founded both Metro, North and South and More Magazines. Warwick Roger never had a penny at risk.

Mick Mason
Nelson