Anna Burns, Milkman

Milkman by Anna Burns My rating: 5 of 5 stars "I did not like twentieth century books because I did not like the twentieth century," says the narrator of Anna Burns's Milkman, the 2018 winner of the Man Booker prize. In one of the novel's many knowing ironies, the joke is that she inhabits what … Continue reading Anna Burns, Milkman

Albert Murray, The Hero and the Blues

The Hero And the Blues by Albert Murray My rating: 5 of 5 stars Albert Murray is, as the fashion journalists say, having a moment. His collected non-fiction and fiction/poetry have now been canonized by the Library of America (in volumes published in 2016 and 2018, respectively) and his insights on race, American identity, music, … Continue reading Albert Murray, The Hero and the Blues

Edgar Allan Poe, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe My rating: 3 of 5 stars Calm block fallen down here from some dark disaster —Stéphane Mallarmé, "The Tomb of Edgar Poe" Edgar Allan Poe must have the strangest legacy in modern literature: he invented both pulp fiction and the literary avant-garde. While … Continue reading Edgar Allan Poe, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket

Longus, Daphnis and Chloe

Daphnis and Chloe by Longus My rating: 4 of 5 stars This early pastoral romance (dating from the second or third century A.D.) is both entertaining in itself and a good corrective to the received wisdom that the novel is a quintessential invention of Cervantes or capitalism or Protestantism or the eighteenth century. Though brief … Continue reading Longus, Daphnis and Chloe

César Aira, How I Became a Nun

How I Became a Nun by César Aira My rating: 3 of 5 stars To recap, following on from my review of the brilliant An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter, César Aira is a prolific Argentine avant-gardist who writes fiction through a method he refers to as a "flight forward": he creates … Continue reading César Aira, How I Became a Nun

How the Novel Succeeded and How You Can Too

[I post this at Tumblr yesterday in response to an anonymous questioner using that platform's "ask" feature. I am posting it here because this is generally where I keep longer pieces I've written. The questioner asked me if I had any thoughts on how the novel rose to cultural prominence, despite the form's many critics, … Continue reading How the Novel Succeeded and How You Can Too

James Wood, David Mitchell, and the Metaphysics and Morality of the Novel

While I enjoyed number9dream, Cloud Atlas, and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, I haven't read David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks, and I don't know that I will.  The high fantasy trope of immemorially-warring clans who represent good and evil may secretly structure most political commentary today, but the peculiar virtue of literature is … Continue reading James Wood, David Mitchell, and the Metaphysics and Morality of the Novel