Jason (jcreed) wrote,

Some days ago I finished a book named "How Fiction Works" by James Wood. I didn't feel like it gave all that coherent an answer to that implied question, but it did contain a lot of very nice writing on the topic of writing. I get a bit of vicarious pleasure from reading people talk articulately about books they really like, even if I've never read them.
[In Sentimental Education] Flaubert seems to scan the streets indifferently, like a camera. Just as when we watch a film we no longer notice what has been excluded, what is just outside the edges of the camera frame, so we no longer notice what Flaubert chooses not to notice. And we no longer notice that what he has selected is not of course casually scanned but quite savagely chosen, that each detail is almost frozen in its gel of chosenness. How superb and magnificently isolate these details are—the women yawning, the unopened newspapers, the washing quivering in the warm air.

I like the phrase "savagely chosen" as an antonym of "casual". If you asked me what the opposite of casual is, surely I'd say something much more benign, like "deliberate". But Wood is implying that Flaubert goes much farther than just deliberation: doing violence with his descriptions, aggressively clawing picturesque details out of the background activity of Paris—yet, once chosen, this violence of authorial effort is hidden, and they're "frozen in gel". I like the adjective "isolate". I like the weirdness of "washing" abutting "quivering", feeling superficially similar in the mouth, but playing very different syntactic roles.

Haha, oh boy, just to layer on more layers of metareviewing, let me point out a hilarious paragraph from this review of the book:

As a critic, Wood is deeply devoted to a set of commonsensical humanist assumptions that he tends to express in vague old-timey terms like “the self” and “the real.” He is most aligned, spiritually, with canonical realism, so he spends his very rich attention lavishly in all the usual storefronts: Proust, Woolf, Tolstoy, Flaubert, Stendhal, Dostoyevsky, Dickens, Conrad, and above all Chekhov. (You could stir an industrial vat of molasses with James Wood’s Chekhov boner.)
Tags: books

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