Art honours the world, and criticism honours art, even – perhaps especially – when the critic sets out to destroy. The bad review is hardly ever written out of mere spite. In most cases, the motivation is disappointed idealism. Critics are people who love art and who hate to see it traduced. Hence the critic’s sempiternal cry: You’re doing it wrong. What the critic wants is for you to do it better.
Since 2008, acclaimed novelist Kevin Power has reviewed almost three hundred and fifty books. Power declares, ‘Even now, cracking open a brand-new hardback with my pencil in my hand, I feel the same pleasure, and the same hope. That’s the great secret: every critic is an optimist at heart.’Art that thinks and feels at the same time – ‘good art’ – requires explication. The writing of criticism in response to such art is an activity that has taken place since Aristotle first sat down to figure out what made tragedy work. It is in the pursuit of this question – what makes good art ‘good’ – that Kevin Power found his vocation. During a ten-year stint as a regular freelance reviewer for the Sunday Business Post, Power fell in love with the writing of criticism, and with the reading of it, too, particularly by talented novelists who review books on the side.
His conclusion is that criticism is absolutely an art. But it is never more so than when practiced by an actual artist. These pieces, ranging from reviews of Susan Sontag to the meaning of Greta Thunberg, apocalyptic politics, and literary theory, represent a decade’s worth of thinking about books; a record of the author’s attempts to honour art, and through art, the world. In You’re Doing It Wrong, Power explains how he became a critic and what he thinks criticism is. It begins and ends with a long personal essays, ‘The Lost Decade’, written especially for this collection, about his mental and writing block after publishing Bad Day in Blackrock and his decade-long journey to White City. The pieces gathered by Power are connected by a theme – this is a book about writing, seen from various positions, and about growth as an artist and a critic.