How Novels Work
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Drawing on his weekly Guardian column, "Elements of Fiction," John Mullan offers an engaging look at the novel, focusing mostly on works of the last ten years as he illuminates the rich resources of novelistic technique.
Mullan sheds light on some of the true masterworks of contemporary fiction, including Monica Ali's Brick Lane, J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace, Don DeLillo's Underworld, Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Patricia Highsmith's Ripley under Ground, Ian McEwan's Atonement, John le Carré's The Constant Gardener, Philip Roth's The Human Stain, Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated, and Zadie Smith's White Teeth. He highlights how these acclaimed authors use some of the basic elements of fiction. Some topics (like plot, dialogue, or location) will appear familiar to most novel readers, while others (meta-narrative, prolepsis, amplification) will open readers' eyes to new ways of understanding and appreciating the writer's craft. Mullan also excels at comparing modern and classic authors--Nick Hornby's adoption of a female narrator is compared to Daniel Defoe's; Ian McEwan's use of weather is set against Austen's and Hardy's.
How Novels Work explains how the pleasures of novel reading often come from the formal ingenuity of the novelist, making visible techniques and effects we are often only half-aware of as we read. It is an entertaining and stimulating volume that will captivate anyone who is interested in the contemporary or the classical novel.
Scott, Sir Walter 112 on dialogue 136 and epigraphs 243 and locality 195 notes to his novels 208–9 Chronicles of the Canongate 243 The Heart of Midlothian 31–2, 34, 195 Ivanhoe 138 Old Mortality 131–2 Self, Will 232 the self-conscious novel 60–2 sensation novels 10, 108 sentimental novels 107 settings 197–200 Shakespeare, William and villains 94 As You Like It 20 King Lear 287–8 Macbeth 243, 297 Sonnets 293 The Tempest 21 Shelley, Mary 303 Frankenstein 12 Shields, Carol
Gardener, le Carré is tempted to switch his narrative focus onto characters besides Woodrow and Justin. The previously enigmatic Ghita, Tessa’s friend, becomes less enigmatic late in the novel when we are suddenly allowed into her thoughts as she pursues the truth about the murder. Tim Donoghue, the resident British spy in Nairobi, is a faux-naive actor until the moment, hundreds of pages in, when le Carré wants us to know what he is thinking ‘inside his operational skull’. But why should the
‘Gothic novels’ called themselves ‘romances’. The first two bestsellers to secure the notoriety of Gothic, Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho and Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796), both carried the subtitle ‘A Romance’. (Only the earliest of Gothic novels, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1765), actually labelled itself ‘Gothic’; it described itself, at the head of its first chapter, as ‘A Gothic Story’.) A novel declaring itself ‘A Romance’ in the 1790s was setting out, at the end of
gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. (Gen. 3: 6–8) Did Adam take the fruit readily or only after much persuasion, gladly or despairingly? The narrative refuses to say. In this translation, the openness to interpretation of much of Genesis is a consequence of the paratactic style (much altered in more modern translations). There is something
adventurousness’ (53). The mind clutches at that dress, irrelevantly yet significantly. It cannot quite be seen, though two colours flash back on the memory. ‘For himself, he was absurd. His demands upon Clarissa (he could see it now) were absurd.’ The aside is a private acknowledgement, as if we were to hear a man stiffly talking to himself, trying to push away a possibility that he cannot quite forget. Cunningham has copied this trick of the parenthesis as a way of catching two things, two