James Wood Ain't Afraid of Lit's Favorite Sons

Updike might not enjoy this

In the chapter "Flaubert and Modern Narrative," for example, he quotes a passage from Sentimental Education in which the flaneurial protagonist, Frédéric Moreau, saunters through the Latin Quarter: "At the back of the deserted cafés, women behind the bars yawned between their untouched bottles; the newspapers lay unopened on the reading-room tables; in the laundresses' workshops the washing quivered in the warm draughts."

Wood comments: "The effect is lifelike—in a beautifully artificial way. Flaubert manages to suggest that these details are somehow at once important and unimportant: important because they have been noticed by him and put down on paper, and unimportant because they are all jumbled together, seen as if out of the corner of the eye; they seem to come at us 'like life.' "

Likely to receive an unpleasant e-mail from Thomas Pynchon: Wood
Miriam Berkley

Likely to receive an unpleasant e-mail from Thomas Pynchon: Wood

Details

How Fiction Works
By James Wood
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 285 pp., $24

Lifelike—in a beautifully artificial way. At once passionate and objective, enraptured and discriminating, this is Wood in a sentence, a tenant in the house of fiction who knows its whole structure, as well as its moldings and fixtures and secret passageways, as comprehensively as the architect himself.

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