Thursday 11 March 2021

Too many books, not enough time

The Art of Fiction: Illustrated from Classic and Modern Texts There are things that happened to you when you were a teenager, things you had no control over at the time, things that changed the course of your life. For example, that time when the headmaster told you your choice of A-Levels didn't fit with his timetable, so you had to choose different subjects. You made the most of it of course, changed your expectations, reassessed your career options, and achieved success nonetheless.

Years later you find the time to do that thing you wanted to do aged sixteen and you discover David Lodge's book, The Art of Fiction
"This is a book ... that does not attempt to say the definitive word on any of the topics it touches on, but one that will, I hope, enhance readers' understanding and enjoyment of prose fiction, and suggest to them new possibilities of reading - and, who knows, even writing".

Here's a digestible book about literary devices that can be used as a self-study aid as well as set reading for academic students. It contains fifty chapters, each covering a specific writing technique explained with examples.

Some subjects seem obvious (Beginning), yet Lodge highlights elements that you may not have considered. Others are common techniques for which you may not know the technical term (skaz, aporia, metonymy, synecdoche), all grist to the mill for crossword addicts. Unsurprisingly the most enjoyable chapters are those that use examples from familiar authors; Jane Austen, Graham Greene, George Orwell, Edgar Allan Poe.

Stream of Consciousness, illustrated by Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway, and Interior Monologue illustrated by James Joyce's Ulysses are closely related, tricky devices. You might feel very smug having read the first, and be encouraged to try the second. But maybe not just yet. However Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim, which illustrates the Comic Novel was not at all funny even tho' the literary critique is clear. Lodge is quite right in surmising that "Humour is a notoriously subjective matter".

After forty years the headmaster's decision still rankles, but on completing The Art of Fiction you can't help thinking you should have made more effort to continue with your interest in English literature all those years ago. You're left with the realisation of how much there is still to be read; too many books and not enough time.

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