The Art of the Novel – 4/5 Stars
In the same way that the Annie Dillard and Vivian Gornick books provide an analysis of reading and also a reading list, this too gave me a lot to consider and more to read. First, I even went out and bought a copy of Witold Gombrowicz’s Ferdydurke, and will be more resolved to read Robert Musil’s The Man without Qualities, Kafka’s The Castle, and Jaroslav Hasek’s The Good Soldier Svejk in the near future. I also have a renewed interest in Kundera’s novels — both the Czech and French ones –a renewed interest in classic European fiction as well.
So this is a series of essays and curated interviews about the craft of novel writing (not so much the creation of, but in some senses the creation) but the functionality of being a novelist. There’s some sense of how to structure, how to create, how to present. There’s some heavy criticism about overly narrative based novels, an attack on middle-brow but not low-brow (as it should be) culture, and the real question: why write a novel at all? The book starts with the notion of the “Death of the Novel” a kind of End of History argument that the 20th century has been presenting for awhile in aesthetic conversations to which he suggests it’s already happened in authoritarian regimes, and yet, we’re back.
And there’s long, instructive reading on Kafka through the idea of the Kafkan (deeply as opposed, though he doesn’t say it, to the Kafkaesque), and he’s convincing.
Lastly, I realize something about myself. I am moving away from the academic exercises of literary criticism (failed PhD behind me) and more so into the readerly, writerly, and intellectual sense of them. Also it really does is shift some of my focus. One thing it does, as another review will show, is show how completely dubious I am about a lot of contemporary fiction.