Author Successfully Sues Book Reviewer

“[A] reviewer is entitled to be spiteful as long as she is honest,” wrote Mr Justice Tugendhat last week in his summing-up notes of the first libel case against a national newspaper in the UK since 2009. The judge ruled that £65,000 damages ought to be paid to Sarah Thornton, the Canadian writer of Seven Days in the Art World, by the Telegraph Media Group, publisher of the Telegraph, which in 2008 published a review of Thornton’s book by noted critic Lynn Barber.

In the review, Barber referred to Thornton’s book as “pompous nonsense”, and the judge was at pains to say that Barber was well within her rights to do so. Where Barber overstepped the mark was in fibbing in the review. The book was based on a series of interviews with noted art world figures, including Barber. But in her review, Barber claimed to have been shocked (her eye, she wrote, “practically fell out of its socket”) to have seen her name on a list of interviewees. In fact, she had been interviewed, and Thornton sued. The author refused to settle out of court when an apology was offered. Here’s one blogger’s summary of the case.

In the UK, the case has revived the debate about the ethics of reviewing, which was only recently in the local news when Australian playwright David Williamson wrote to Crikey to defend his play Don Parties On, following a negative review by Jason Whittaker. How should a critic write a negative review? The Guardian’s Lyn Gardner writes, “If you really want to undermine an over-inflated production or performance, then wit and light irony are often the best weapons.”

Related posts