‘I like your novel. I enjoyed it.’ She says this plainly, a mere fact, but there’s no mistaking the rising inflexion making joy into a query… a statement of surprise.
‘I’m reading your novel.’ Nothing more. Just what should be a reassuring statement. But what does it mean? Has she finished the first chapter, where’s she up to? She doesn’t say.
‘I loved your novel,’ with a notable circumflex. But that’s over the top and you don’t believe her. It’s gushy, can’t be true. And a noted circumflex indicates there’s more to be said, but she says nothing more. What is it she won’t say?
Then there’s the silent friend, who came to the launch and never mentions your novel, ever again. Her silence more potent even than a notable circumflex or rising inflexion.
‘I liked your novel.’ The past tense. You feel robbed somehow. Only liked it.
Then a good friend goes on Goodreads and gives your novel four stars. You’re delighted and then you think… why not five stars? You check other books they gave five stars to. You try not to feel aggrieved. Now the distance between four and five stars becomes the distance between friends.
At last, a critic. You pay careful attention. Someone who read your novel and didn’t like it. They tear it apart skilfully, piece by piece, analyse its flaws. The flaws you already knew about and hoped no one would notice. You are riveted, you read every terrifying thing they write, not once, not twice, but over and over and over. You become greedy and Google your own novel become convinced that none of your friends know half as much as this really negative woman on Amazon. It feels good, you know you deserve this.
Praise is overrated.