The promotional material that comes with Michael Cox's debut novel serves notice of a worrying trend. Last year, having paid Cox a record £500,000 advance, publishers John Murray embarked on a ‘ground-breaking research Project’. They sent out 600 copies to ordinary readers, inviting them to submit their responses.
‘Fantastic, awesome, first-rate, marvellous, sensational, superb, stunning, impressive and amazing’, opined S Rowe of Wigton, Cumbria. ‘It was more Wilkie Collins than Wilkie Collins himself!’ quipped an anonymous London female, aged 55–64. J Herron of Belfast suspected the novel's hero, Edward Glyver, ‘may well become a stock character in 21st century literature’. These citizen critics will do us out of a job!
Despite the publishers' exhortations never to mind the hype, they appear to have created quite a bit of it. Factor in the novel's very marketable Victorian setting and Cox's very media-friendly personal story (he had a near-fatal brush with cancer which finally inspired him to set down the novel he'd