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May 19, 2009

Comments

Niall

I think one reason Bellow found the epistolary form so freeing was simply that he was not a very good storyteller, and his plotting skills were almost non-existent, a failing noted by many critics. Yet Bellow insisted on constructing creaking, plodding plot structure on which to hang his philosophical and psychological musings. So it's not surprising a form where plot is at best secondary suited him (and his readers perhaps even more) so well.

Perhaps the form and style he used in Herzog should have been he adopted more widely in his work. It would certainly have improved works like the interminable Henderson the Rain King.

BDon

Niall -

Bellow was an excellent storyteller when he chose to be. Consider 'The Adventures of Augie March,' his freewheeling masterwork, rich in incident and spanning many years and many lands (America, Canada, Mexico). Or 'The Victim.' Or even 'Seize the Day.' And, yes, with the exception of its final chapters (those endless dialogues with King Dahfu!), 'Henderson the Rain King.' Far from being interminable, I find it exhilarating.

Bellow was a master. If he chose not to plot heavily, it's not because he was "a poor storyteller" but because he had something else in mind. He acknowledged, for example, that 'Mr. Sammler's Planet' isn't even a novel but "something wrung from me" by the atmosphere of the 1960s. A polemic. A diatribe. Something.

As for plotting -- because he did not doesn't mean he could not.

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TEV DEFINED


  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."

SECOND LOOK

  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

    Bs

    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe

    Rider_4

    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."