Wednesday 5 February 2014

How Fiction Works by James Wood


Woods introduces the book by comparing what he is attempting to do with The elements of drawing by John Ruskin. A book that aimed to  be a primer by casting a critic’s eye over the business of creation, to help the practising painter, the curious viewer, the ordinary art lover…  So in creating this book Wood says In this book I try to ask some of the essential questions about the art of fiction and it is supposed to be aimed at both writers and a general audience who want to know how books work without doing formal literary criticism. A specialists guide for the non-specialist supposedly.

It starts well using clear examples that are a mix of contemporary and classic. However Wood soon forgets that he is aiming the book at a general audience and it starts to enter the rarefied air of almost academic literary criticism. The earlier chapters I fully grasped and found interesting but when he started on a chapter called a history of consciousness I confess he lost me and subsequent chapters on dialogue and realism never really got me back. Wood also falls into the trap of good fiction = only the fiction he likes and he really really likes Flaubert. When he starts being sniffy about “why genre isn’t any good” he lost my good opinion completely and when he starts criticising other critics at the end of the book it meant I drew a sigh of relief when it was all over.

Overall – starts well but soon becomes stuffy, I can’t recommend this. One for the discard pile.

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