I have a confession to make: I’ve never read a novel by Dorothy Dunnett. I’ve never even tried. I do, however, have a copy of King Hereafter in my book annex, otherwise known as my garage. But that’s the closest I’ve come to reading her.
One reason I suspect I’ve let King Hereafter sit forlornly in the garage is the overzealousness of some of Dunnett’s readers, who take the decided opinion that if you don’t care for Dunnett’s works, you must be simply too dense to grasp her wit and subtlety. I saw this phenomenon recently on a Yahoo group where an avid fan declared loftily that those who like historical romance will not like Dunnett, whereas those who like historical fiction will. In other words, if you don’t like Dunnett, it must be because you’re an intellectual lightweight who should stick to reading novels with lead characters named “Vixen” and “Blade.” Or maybe just to coloring books.
Now, it’s natural, I suppose, when one is wildly enthusiastic about an author, to try to win as many converts as possible. But deriding the tastes of those who don’t share yours doesn’t have the desired effect. In fact, it can even backfire on the hapless author: if a writer’s fans are jerks, it’s too easy to suppose that her books appeal to jerks, and to pass them by accordingly.
This sort of zealotry is by no means confined to Dunnett admirers, of course, and it’s by no means confined to fans of authors either: readers who dislike an author can be just as intolerant of differing opinions. In this case, a unsuspecting reader will offer the name of an author for discussion, only to be greeted with a curt “Ooh! How can you like her? She’s awful.”
But it’s getting late and Boswell is getting tired, so let’s get back to Dunnett. Tell me what your favorite Dunnett novel is. Tell me who your favorite Dunnett character is. Tell me what you like about her novels. Tell me why I might like her novels. Quote some good bits to me. But don’t tell me that if I read her and don’t like her, it means my brain is full of mush. Because stubborn cuss that I am, all that does is make me reach for a novel by someone else–and goodness knows, there’s no shortage of alternatives.