Trevor Hoyle responded to my review

Last summer I reviewed The Last Gasp by Trevor Hoyle. As with most books I read, I had some positive things to say about it and some negative things. The negative things mainly revolved around my usual problems with ‘older’ writing (The Last Gasp is from the 80s): namely the depiction of women, homosexual people and people with disfigurements. I posted my review, linked to it on Goodreads and moved on to the next book.

Imagine my surprise, then, when last month Trevor Hoyle got in touch to say that he had read my review and wanted to respond to some of my points. “I’d like to thank you for the time and energy and thought you’ve put into reading and reviewing the book,” he said, “but I’m not completely going to submit (in the wrestling sense) to your mysogynistic charges.”

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I will just clarify that I didn’t send my review to Trevor Hoyle. I agree with the sentiment I’ve heard many writers express, that you shouldn’t directly tag an author if you’re going to criticise their book, but I did post a brief review on the Goodreads page for The Last Gasp, with a link to my full review, and that is how he came across it.

I asked him if he would mind me publishing his responses on this blog, and he said I could, so here is Trevor Hoyle responding to my thoughts on his book, The Last Gasp. (Extracts from my original review are in italics.)

I did have one major problem with the book: its portrayal of women. It’s amazing how a book so scientifically prescient can remain so backwards in how it treats its female characters. I invented a game as I was reading, so feel free to try it yourself if you pick this one up: it’s called ‘Spot the Drink’. When a female character is in a scene, keep an eye out for the drink. She will either be preparing one (usually for a man), serving one (usually to a man), or offering to make one (you get the idea). 

Yes, you’re right about the female characters and the rather old-fashioned treatment of them. I did try to change some of these bad habits in the revised (2016) edition. I never before realised that they endlessly serve drinks to the male characters! I suppose that’s part of the problem you are addressing. [But] I tried to create in Cheryl Detrick and Ruth Brosnan two strong intelligent women — both scientists remember — who lead independent lives and go their own way.

[Women] are always sexualised; every woman we come across is described in terms of how attractive she is to the man looking at her (many of the male characters are too, but not nearly with the same regularity as the women). 

You also find fault with the way the male characters view and describe women. But that’s what men do in finding them sexually attractive or not. Women do exactly the same — it just so happens there are more male viewpoints in the book than womens’. (I happen to be a man.)

There’s even a moment where a man examines the body of a woman whose head has been blown off and his first thought is about how attractive she must have been when she was alive. Seriously. Do we even have to sexualise corpses?

I think you missed the point of the scene where someone has a kind of sexual thrill over a headless corpse of an attractive woman. This is supposed to indicate the moral degradation of the character in finding this titillating, not a vicarious thrill for the reader.

I’ve never had an author respond in such detail to one of my reviews before, and I think it raises some interesting questions. Namely, does the author have ‘final say’ over how their book should be interpreted? Are all readings valid, or does the creator of the text have a kind of ‘special access’ to it? To what extent does an author’s intention matter?

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Of course, the answers to these questions aren’t simple. In fact, rafts of literary theory has been written about this very subject, and countless different responses have emerged. For now, for this blog post, I give you two interpretations of a text – reader and writer – and leave it to you to decide.

What do you think?

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