Very decent article by Nigel Beale on James Wood, that deserves a considered response, over on Filthy Habits.

Just at the moment, I really don't have a minute to write anything substantial, but I've just finished Wood's hugely disappointing How Fiction Works, so I would like to respond, both to Nigel's article and to Wood's rather weak new book. Perhaps over the weekend? I'll try.

Very briefly, my major beef with How Fiction Works is, I suppose, how it is being sold to us. "His first full-length book of criticism" this is supposed to be a definitive -- a summing up of "two decades of bold, often controversial, and now classic critical work" -- and "searching" statement from "one of the most prominent critics of our time" about "the machinery of story-telling." But it is little more than a Dummies guide to narrative, detail and characterization. It heats up a little towards the end -- in Truth, Convention, Realism, the key chapter, and one that really needed working up into something a good deal more substantial -- when Wood argues for the persistence in art of a realism really better called lifeness. But most of the rest of the book is pretty meagre stuff.

His assertion that the history of the novel is really the history of free indirect style is interesting. And it surprised me that Barthes and Viktor Shklovsky are his favourite literary theorists -- even if this book "conducts a sustained argument with them." Sustained I didn't find it. It's a great crib, no doubt, but "one of the most prominent critics of our time" should surely be doing a lot more than writing a kind of student's guide to the novel.


Readers Comments

  1. Hi Dennis and thanks for the cmemont. It sounds like you're being a bit harsh on yourself there! I do want to clarify that by having an English degree I don't consider myself especially clever or high brow! And I'm also not saying that everyone should go out and get one absolutely not. I just think that it's good to have some sort of context when you're writing. Or at least, before you begin to write. Like you, once I start I just want to tell the story in the best way possible.Glad the post got you thinking!

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