Friday, March 25, 2011

How Fiction Works, by James Wood

Of Milan Kundera's critical essays, Wood writes, "Occasionally we want his hands to be a bit inkier with text."

If that means producing a book like this, no, we don't.

I tried using How Fiction Works in class this quarter. I came away from the experience convinced that this is a book without an audience. Writers will want to stick with Kundera; young readers will drown in Wood's ink.

Of course the book has merit. Wood is indisputably a brilliant critic. Of Dostoyevsky, for instance, he says: "In the novel, we can see the self better than any literary form has yet allowed; but it is not going too far to say that the self is being driven mad by being so invisibly scrutinized."

But these thrills are too rare. For a novice, Wood is too inky, and for the practitioner, he lacks bravado.

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