How Fiction Works

How Fiction Works

3.98 (5,489 ratings by Goodreads)
  • Hardback
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In the tradition of E. M. Forster's "Aspects of the Novel" and Milan Kundera's "The Art of the Novel", "How Fiction Works" is a scintillating and searching study of the main elements of fiction, such as narrative, detail, characterization, dialogue, realism, and style. In his first full-length book of criticism, one of the most prominent critics of our time takes the machinery of story-telling apart to ask a series of fundamental questions: What do we mean when we say we 'know' a fictional character? What constitutes a 'telling' detail? When is a metaphor successful? Is realism realistic? Why do most endings of novels disappoint?Wood ranges widely, from Homer to Beatrix Potter, from the Bible to John Le Carre, and his book is both a study of the techniques of fiction-making and an alternative history of the novel. Playful and profound, it incisively sums up two decades of bold, often controversial, and now classic critical work, and will be enlightening to writers, readers, and anyone interested in what happens on the page.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 208 pages
  • 138 x 218 x 26mm | 358.34g
  • Jonathan Cape Ltd
  • London, United Kingdom
  • 0224079832
  • 9780224079839
  • 322,229

About James Wood

James Wood is a staff writer at The New Yorker and Professor of the Practice of Literary Criticism at Harvard. He is the author of two essay collections, The Broken Estate and The Irresponsible Self, and a novel, The Book Against God.
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Rating details

5,489 ratings
3.98 out of 5 stars
5 30% (1,660)
4 44% (2,428)
3 20% (1,097)
2 4% (243)
1 1% (61)

Our customer reviews

<p>Over the past years in his literary essays for <em>New Republic</em> and <em>The New Yorker</em> (examples of which can be read in two excellent collections: <a href="">The Broken Estate: Essays on Literature and Belief</a> and <a href="">The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel</a>), James Wood has proved himself to be one of the finest critics of his generation. He is a conscientious and voracious reader who is erudite, insightful, generous, and someone who is a thoroughly readable and enjoyable writer in his own right. </p> <p>Often seen as old-fashioned for praising realism and books written in his beloved <a href="" target="_blank">free indirect style</a>, Wood is actually a great populariser who has praised many young writers. In addition, his definition of realism is capacious enough to include many books that might, at first glance, seem quite the opposite. Wood argues for its persistence in art, and thinks realism would really better called <em>lifeness</em>, something that even the most avant-garde novels often have to grapple with.</p> <p><a href="">How Fiction Works</a> is Wood's first full-length book, and is devoted to a discussion of how narrative, detail and characterization all work within the novel. The argument is pitched at quite a basic level, but Wood has a nice turn of phrase and uses his examples well. The book heats up a little towards the end -- <em>Truth, Convention, Realism</em> is the key chapter -- when Wood shows himself to be less dyed-in-the-wool and conservative than he is often accused of being. Wood sticks close to the commonly used critical lexicon throughout and elucidates it wonderfully well. He certainly exclaims a little too often and sometimes confuses approbation with attentiveness, and some of his readers might have wished for a more ambitious book, but <a href="">How Fiction Works</a> is a highly recommended crib that does what it does very well indeed.</p>show more
by Mark Thwaite
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