Sunday, May 22, 2011

Jess Row on the Novel at Boston Review

Jess Row has published an essay here, courtesy of Boston Review, declaring critics to be in thrall to false dichotomies of new and old for the novel.

His piece is provocative. Row brings up some of the canards of the theorists and practitioners of fiction before and after Mikhailovich Bakhtin and Virginia Woolf. What I am surprised to find is that the argument does not include one of the leading lights of the novel in recent years, Milan Kundera. For all his male bias, Kundera remains one of my favorite guides to the overlooked possibilities of full length fiction, in his Art of the Novel and The Curtain especially.

But Row's arguments cover lots of ground and demonstrate, among other things, the reductiveness of Zadie Smith's widely cited and persuasive essay in NYRB, that set up a split between novels like Netherland by Joseph O'Neill (presented by her as lyrical realism, the past of the novel) and Remainder by Tom McCarthy (presented by her as avant-garde, the future of the form.)

More on what I think specifically about all this in my next post.


  1. I like to paraphrase the great philosopher Marx here:

    "Outside of a dog, a novel is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."

    And that's Groucho Marx, by the way.

  2. My fave Groucho is "I'd never join a club that would have me." Comedian as set theorist.