How Fiction Works/James Wood

Thursday, December 16, 2010

In the middle of the night you grab the book that's nearest at hand, while your neighbors' floodlights (yes, they are floodlights) pour into your living room—so star bright that, at three in the morning, you can actually read by the light of them.

In any case, the nearest book was How Fiction Works, by James Wood.  Am I the last writer alive to read this book?  Probably so.  But that doesn't dim my enthusiasm for the passages I find here, my sense of discovery.  I grow enamored, for example, of declarations such as this:

Novelists should thank Flaubert the way poets thank spring: it all begins with him.  There really is a time before Flaubert and a time after him.  Flaubert established, for good or ill, what most readers think of as modern realist narration, and his influence is almost too familiar to be visible.  We hardly remark of good prose that it favors the telling and brilliant detail; that it privileges a high degree of visual noticing; that it maintains an unsentimental composure and knows how to withdraw, like a good valet, from superfluous commentary; that it judges good and bad neutrally; that it seeks out the truth, even at the cost of repelling us; and that the author's fingerprints on all this are, paradoxically, traceable but not visible.  You can find some of this in Defoe or Austen or Balzac, but not all of it until Flaubert. 
I'm not about to review this book.  I'm just going to sit with it, let it stir within me arguments for or against, let it guide me as I set out to write (as I fight to find the time to write) this new novel for adults.

Light on.


Beth F said...

I'm in love with that photo. Some books are meant to be savored or to be thought about rather than reviewed.

Lilian Nattel said...

It goes on my list--great excerpt. Thank you.

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