One question I’m often asked is how a critic can be impartial. Short answer is they can’t, and if anyone says they are they’re an idiot. The best a critic can hope to do is be honest about their partialities. Personally – and at the moment, since tastes change over time – I prefer work that reflects complexity, innovation and experimentalism. But being open about preferences is not the same as being merely subjective. Any decent critic will judge a book firstly by its own internal aesthetic, and only later on the value of that aesthetic. (That’s where someone like Dale Peck goes wrong in my opinion). These musings were in part prompted by reading Michael Chabon’s wonderful book of essays, Maps and Legends, which has a fantastic piece on Arthur Conan Doyle (one of the history of literature’s great never-readers: he couldn’t bear to re-read the Holmes stories, which is why Dr Watson’s wound keeps migrating all over his body).