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The 700-year history of the novel in English defies straightforward telling. Geographically and culturally boundless, with contributions from Great Britain, Ireland, America, Canada, Australia, India, the Caribbean, and Southern Africa; influenced by great novelists working in other languages; and encompassing a range of genres, the story of the novel in English unfolds li The 700-year history of the novel in English defies straightforward telling. Geographically and culturally boundless, with contributions from Great Britain, Ireland, America, Canada, Australia, India, the Caribbean, and Southern Africa; influenced by great novelists working in other languages; and encompassing a range of genres, the story of the novel in English unfolds like a richly varied landscape that invites exploration rather than a linear journey. In The Novel: A Biography, "Michael Schmidt does full justice to its complexity. Like his hero Ford Madox Ford in The March of Literature," Schmidt chooses as his traveling companions not critics or theorists but "artist practitioners," men and women who feel "hot love" for the books they admire, and fulminate against those they dislike. It is their insights Schmidt cares about. Quoting from the letters, diaries, reviews, and essays of novelists and drawing on their biographies, Schmidt invites us into the creative dialogues between authors and between books, and suggests how these dialogues have shaped the development of the novel in English. Schmidt believes there is something fundamentally subversive about art: he portrays the novel as a liberalizing force and a revolutionary stimulus. But whatever purpose the novel serves in a given era, a work endures not because of its subject, themes, political stance, or social aims but because of its language, its sheer invention, and its resistance to cliche--some irreducible quality that keeps readers coming back to its pages."


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The 700-year history of the novel in English defies straightforward telling. Geographically and culturally boundless, with contributions from Great Britain, Ireland, America, Canada, Australia, India, the Caribbean, and Southern Africa; influenced by great novelists working in other languages; and encompassing a range of genres, the story of the novel in English unfolds li The 700-year history of the novel in English defies straightforward telling. Geographically and culturally boundless, with contributions from Great Britain, Ireland, America, Canada, Australia, India, the Caribbean, and Southern Africa; influenced by great novelists working in other languages; and encompassing a range of genres, the story of the novel in English unfolds like a richly varied landscape that invites exploration rather than a linear journey. In The Novel: A Biography, "Michael Schmidt does full justice to its complexity. Like his hero Ford Madox Ford in The March of Literature," Schmidt chooses as his traveling companions not critics or theorists but "artist practitioners," men and women who feel "hot love" for the books they admire, and fulminate against those they dislike. It is their insights Schmidt cares about. Quoting from the letters, diaries, reviews, and essays of novelists and drawing on their biographies, Schmidt invites us into the creative dialogues between authors and between books, and suggests how these dialogues have shaped the development of the novel in English. Schmidt believes there is something fundamentally subversive about art: he portrays the novel as a liberalizing force and a revolutionary stimulus. But whatever purpose the novel serves in a given era, a work endures not because of its subject, themes, political stance, or social aims but because of its language, its sheer invention, and its resistance to cliche--some irreducible quality that keeps readers coming back to its pages."

30 review for The Novel: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    UPDATE I still think this mighty beast is great but it’s great like the Grand Canyon and quite often when I read a paragraph I get a feeling that Michael Schmidt is just too clever/cultured/informed/lofty for the likes of me. I mean, great God, he’s read like everything… is he 200 years old or does he have the time stopping power of The Fermata like in Nicholson Baker? Here’s an example. On p74 he discusses Daniel Defoe. (I have only read Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders.) He contrasts Defoe wit UPDATE I still think this mighty beast is great but it’s great like the Grand Canyon and quite often when I read a paragraph I get a feeling that Michael Schmidt is just too clever/cultured/informed/lofty for the likes of me. I mean, great God, he’s read like everything… is he 200 years old or does he have the time stopping power of The Fermata like in Nicholson Baker? Here’s an example. On p74 he discusses Daniel Defoe. (I have only read Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders.) He contrasts Defoe with Aphra Behn, a novelist very few people now read, so he has me at an advantage already. I have to take his word for all things Aphra related. What Defoe has and Behn lacks is a developed dissenting conscience. This gives his novels, in a first person that is dogmatically rooted, focus and direction. Like her, he writes for effect, but the effects he strives for are moral, a morality anachronistic and problematic. 1) What does he mean by “dissenting”? I think he’s referring to the special historical meaning of this word relating to the established Church. If so, the meaning is not very clear. If not, the meaning is totally unclear. 2) What does he mean by “dogmatically”? What opinions are being blindly asserted here, by Defoe or by Crusoe? I had remembered Crusoe the character to be the embodiment of pragmatism, not dogmatism. 3) “Like her, he writes for effect” – what does that mean? Every writer writes for effect, the effect on the reader. A billion different effects, of course, but some effect. So this seems nonsensical too. 4) Why is Defoe's morality described as "anachronistic"? Schmidt does not care to explain. I think that within the Schmidt brain everything is crystal clear, but his compressed writing for me often obscures the points he wants to make. Compressed, in a book of 1100 pages! So I’m just throwing in that reading this book can make you feel like a dimwit. THE ORIGINAL REVIEW Although I have been glomming this giant book greedily for the last few days (what does he says about DeLillo? Really? What about Gass/Gaddis/Pynchon? Ha! I thought so), it’s not something you can sit down & read like a normal book (god help the actual real-world reviewers who have to at least try to); not unless you want to put your life & your actual novel-reading on hold for a month or so, which I don’t. So it’s one of those perennially fascinating big creatures like David Thomson’s Biographical Dictionary of Film or Peter Watson’s A Terrible Beauty. You’ll be picking it up & putting it down for years. From what I’ve read so far, The Novel : A Biography is highly recommended to everybody who reads novels, which is pretty much all of us here, I think. But it is a bit peculiar. Firstly, there are two strange things about my copy – on the spine it says the title : “A Life of the Novel” and not “The Novel: A Biography” as it does in the title page. That’s odd, so maybe this is some early version. Which might explain why I can’t find any NOTES in this giant book. You know that every book with any scholarly intention has NOTES which tell you exactly where the various quotations used in the book come from. Often at the bottom of each page as footnotes, or more usually a fat section at the back of the book. This is an essential part of the production. Otherwise, our author might just be making up his quotes. Prof Schmidt uses thousands of quotations throughout this book, because one of the main things is, he likes to set authors discussing each other, and he thinks following these conversations is one of the most enlightening things a novel reader can do. So I need the NOTES and there aren’t any, at all! Where are they? Who stole them? At the end of the book there is a Timeline and an index and that’s all! Okay, I don’t NEED the notes but I feel this book is going about in public with no trousers on if it has no notes. Second, Schmidt’s method is to advance crabwise through time. For instance, he has a chapter provocatively called “Propaganda” and here we find Isherwood, Paul and Jane Bowles, Henry Green, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene… yes, all fairly congruent… but also Edmund White, RK Narayan, Caryl Phillips and Timothy Mo. He throws some unlikely bedfellows together. In other chapters, Donald Barthelme meets GK Chesterton; Nabokov befriends Franzen; Kafka picks up Martin Amis’s car keys. Third, he says he had no Big Theory about the Novel, but I did find this mission statement in the introduction: A few novels ask to be re-read and become living parts of memory that affect how we hear, speak, see, feel and act. Those novels and their authors are this book’s quarry But this is not 1001 Books you Must Read And Then You Will Die, Die, I Say, Die; more like 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, by Jane Smiley (also recommended) – a serious zigzag paraglide through all the cloudy worlds of words we find so beguiling and so necessary, One for the Christmas wish list.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    I spent all of 2015 reading this book with the Roundtable. About a chapter a week, and about one of the books discussed in it, 74 books in all. Here's what it was like: Its title is misleading. (He wanted to call it "Lives of the Novelists" but his publisher wanted this.) Biography implies a story with an arc, a plot, which this doesn't have. It's too encyclopedic. It's all inclusive. There is a way to turn the development of the novel into a coherent story, but it involves quite a bit of trimmin I spent all of 2015 reading this book with the Roundtable. About a chapter a week, and about one of the books discussed in it, 74 books in all. Here's what it was like: Its title is misleading. (He wanted to call it "Lives of the Novelists" but his publisher wanted this.) Biography implies a story with an arc, a plot, which this doesn't have. It's too encyclopedic. It's all inclusive. There is a way to turn the development of the novel into a coherent story, but it involves quite a bit of trimming and not a little lying, and that's not what Schmidt's about. If you read this cover-to-cover there will be plot twists, but no satisfying denouement. (But if you wanted a biography, here's how you do it. It's about a child prodigy (Quixote!) and then it has a difficult adolescence (the 1700s) and then it grows into an overly serious young adult, very concerned with life and love (the 1800s) and then it gets a little weird as a younger generation starts to come up behind it (moving pictures) and it feels threatened, and it starts to sortof act out to try to get attention (modernism and postmodernism) and basically it's in the middle of a midlife crisis right now. There you are!) But Schmidt covers everyone. Novelists who were popular in their time but have fallen away, novelists who were unpopular in their time but have grown into themselves. If anyone ever paid attention to them, Schmidt has time for them. I appreciate that. He also has time for two other specific groups: Scottish authors you've never heard of (Schmidt, born in Mexico City, teaches at Glasgow), and poets who have written one novel (Schmidt is a poet who has written one novel). So get ready for Susan Ferrier and EE Cummings. He has a theme for each chapter but it's not always clear what it is. One chapter covers the American South, fine. Others, we joked that the theme was "Circle jerks" (45), or "Authors that bore Michael Schmidt" (43). Part of the fun is trying to figure out what he's up to. His connections are sometimes virtuosic, sometimes whimsical, sometimes inexplicable. He's either more conservative than he thinks he is, or more liberal than he presents as, or some of each. We were irritated all year long by his coy references to sexuality: he describes Washington Irving as "a confirmed bachelor or, modern biographers suggest, a 'confirmed bachelor,'" which is funny the first time. And when he attacks Mary Shelley - "Semiotics, feminism, and an increasingly craven respect for what is 'popular' have brought it into the canon" - or Daphne Du Maurier, it's hard not to bristle. But I don't think Schmidt sees himself as part of the stodgy old white guy school of literature critics; his intent, I suspect, is to be inclusive. He's got a whole chapter on African writers. The effect is confusing. Shmidt quotes authors about authors, and this is maybe the selling point of the book. Each author gets a compilation of every other author's smartest judgments about her. Schmidt's rule is to only quote novelists - never critics - and so he presents this epic conversation and debate amongst novelists about novels. Some of them, as you might expect, have very smart things to say. Joyce Carol Oates says, "Art by its nature is a transgressive act." You get these terrific burns from one author to another. Saul Bellow calls Henry Miller "peculiar cafeteria fruit salad." Schmidt gives his own thoughts too, of course, and his actual analysis of novelists can be breathtakingly insightful. Again and again, he's shown me ways into writers I already know, or interested me in writers I don't, with incisive remarks about their writing. On VS Pritchett, and not a bad epitaph: "When he said that nothing happened to him, he was forgetting how many worlds he had read, how many engagements he kept." He calls Nabokov "The exception to every rule." And you'll get some sick burns once in a while from him too, in the friable style he has. About Ouida, he says "Each sentence exists in a kind of tense hope that it may follow the one before and perhaps precede the one following." Sometimes you get both at once. Here's Schmidt on Flannery O'Connor: "Truman Capote patted her on the head with 'She has some fine moments, that girl.' His hand should have been badly charred." Was the project worth it? It was. I learned lots about individual authors, and some really important (to me) things about the novel as an organism. I loved Schmidt's (somewhat annoyed) opinion of the entire 19th century: there is "something collusive about most of it, the novel on the side of the establishment and its readers, accepting political and social structures even as it satirizes and corrects." He marks Eliot and Hardy as the moment when "resistance begins." He firmly places Gertrude Stein at the vanguard of modernism. He skims past postmodernism as fast as he can; it does not seem to be his thing. I don't think it's necessary to read the whole thing through, as I did. You can just flip around to whoever you happen to be interested in right now. But as a complete encyclopedia of everything interesting anyone's ever said about anyone interesting...well, that sounds worthwhile, doesn't it? I think so. This has been maybe my favorite year of reading, out of many years of reading. I'm very grateful to this book for giving that to me. Very brief chapter thoughts I actually ran out of room here - didn't even know that was possible! I also ran out of highlight on my Kindle; it turns out you can only legally highlight so much of a book, and I'd gone over. Anyway, so I'm pasting brief chapter summaries down below: Chapters 1 - 10 11 - 20 21 - 30 31 - 40 41 - 45.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Gill

    This is a 5 star book for me. I've just finished reading this book, which I started on January 1st 2015. It's been a long, but worthwhile, haul (45 chapters long)! I have been reading it as a group read in a Goodreads group; we have been reading each chapter and then choosing our own sidereads to go alongside each chapter. I thought it was excellent up to the end of the 19th century, maybe even up to the 1930s. I was much less interested in the final 10 chapters, probably because I know much more This is a 5 star book for me. I've just finished reading this book, which I started on January 1st 2015. It's been a long, but worthwhile, haul (45 chapters long)! I have been reading it as a group read in a Goodreads group; we have been reading each chapter and then choosing our own sidereads to go alongside each chapter. I thought it was excellent up to the end of the 19th century, maybe even up to the 1930s. I was much less interested in the final 10 chapters, probably because I know much more about this period, and its authors and novels already. I have 7 more side-reads I intend to finish before the end of the year, and another dozen that I may read next year. I have completed 19 novels as sidereads, and started but left unfinished 9 more. This was definitely worth doing, but I'm glad to be finished! Continuation of review, October 24th 2015 As I said elsewhere, round about chapter 38 in The Novel: A Biography,I realised I was running out of steam. So I decided to carry on reading the book till the end, and put most of the side reads to read later. It's taken me a bit of time to sort out what my views on the whole book are. Firstly the negatives: 1/ I think maybe Schmidt was running out of steam near the end also. Although there were lots of interesting facts in the last few chapters, there didn't seem to be the connections between the various writers, like he made earlier in the book. Perhaps this was partly due to the large number of writers he was covering in each chapter? 2/ I found the various innuendo- type comments about friendships and closeness of various writers to other men or women, outdated and inappropriate. 3/ I can't remember what the third negative is! Now on to all the positives: I found the pre-20th century section excellent; it suited me right down to the ground. Although I've always read a lot, I've never studied literature, so there are lots of authors to whom I don't really know the background, and I really didn't understand the connections between them. I think Schmidt was excellent at showing the connections, giving background information, and I especially liked the way he introduced comments from one author about another on many, many occasions. For example, I've known the names of Samuel Richardson, Henry Fieldingand Tobias Smollett but I've never really understood the distinctions between them or anything about what they wrote. Things I've gained from reading this section include: *Feeling very comfortable about preferring the writing of Elizabeth Gaskell to the writing of Charles Dickens *Knowing that William Makepeace Thackeray is not a one novel author, I've now read The History of Pendennis: His Fortunes & Misfortunes, His Friends & His Greatest Enemy(in addition to Vanity Fair,which I'd read a couple of years ago). I intend to carry on looking at his books. *Wanting to read more books by Anthony Trollope I also enjoyed the section on the 20th century, up to the final few chapters that I mentioned above. Things I've gained from this include: *Still wanting to read more by Arnold Bennett, even though Schmidt doesn't seem to rate him at all! *Deciding to have a William Faulknerfest in 2016, I've identified the six books by him that I intend to read *Knowing that, at this moment in time, I still don't want to read any books by Virginia Woolf. I've started her books on so many occasions previously, and never got past the first few pages. I sometimes hope that one day I'll wake up, open one of her books, adore it, and then read all of them consecutively! I've got a few more side reads to complete before the end of this year, and then I have identified about 20 books that I intend to read as sidereads during 2016. Oh yes, and I gave the book 5 stars.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Emma Sea

    NTS buy on kindle, do not attempt to read giant hardcover NTS2: goddamn it, Emma. why did you not read your own note to yourself? got this from the library again. IT'S NOT READABLE IN HARDCOVER. It's the size of a small pre-Renaissance Italian city-state.

  5. 5 out of 5

    El

    I will be taking my time reading through this and falling down the rabbit hole that is reading the other books Schmidt references. Because I have too much time on my hands. So I will update this review as I go, listing the books as I complete them and linking to my review so I can find them all in one place someday down the line. Completed!: Chapter 1: "Literature is Invention" -The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, Sir John Mandeville (trans. C.W.R.D. Moseley) Chapter 2: True Stories -Le Morte d'Arthur I will be taking my time reading through this and falling down the rabbit hole that is reading the other books Schmidt references. Because I have too much time on my hands. So I will update this review as I go, listing the books as I complete them and linking to my review so I can find them all in one place someday down the line. Completed!: Chapter 1: "Literature is Invention" -The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, Sir John Mandeville (trans. C.W.R.D. Moseley) Chapter 2: True Stories -Le Morte d'Arthur, Sir Thomas Malory (William Caxton edition) -Utopia, Sir, Thomas More (trans. Paul Turner) Chapter 3: Three Springs -Have not completed any of these reads yet - will come back, maybe if I should ever finish reading Arcadia (though that's unlikely...). Chapter 4: Before Irony -The Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan Chapter 5: Enter America -Oroonoko, the Rover, and Other Works, Aphra Behn -Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston -Dust Tracks on a Road, Zora Neale Hurston Chapter 6: Impersonation -Robinsoe Crusoe, Daniel Defoe -In Cold Blood, Truman Capote -Moll Flanders, Daniel Defoe Aug 7, 2019 Another book I haven't spent considerable amount of time with, but will return to once I get caught up on life and perhaps finish my graduate program.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Shane

    I have read this book in small morsels over this entire year, finishing it only today, and what a feast it has been. I have since decided to stop reading the biographies of famous writers from now on, because the executive summaries of most of them who tackled the novel and influenced it are provided in this book. I was able to compile one-liners to describe a distinguishing feature of every writer mentioned. It will make for good cocktail circuit conversation, I think. But not all authors have b I have read this book in small morsels over this entire year, finishing it only today, and what a feast it has been. I have since decided to stop reading the biographies of famous writers from now on, because the executive summaries of most of them who tackled the novel and influenced it are provided in this book. I was able to compile one-liners to describe a distinguishing feature of every writer mentioned. It will make for good cocktail circuit conversation, I think. But not all authors have been chosen, just in case you were wondering, only those with interesting lives and whose work contributed to the novel’s evolutionary trajectory, and those whom Schmidt determined, using some divine logic, to be merit-worthy of inclusion in his book. Beginning with Sir John Mandeville in 1356 in England (strangely, the Greeks, the Japanese and the Icelanders who came before and who could make similar claims to being the originators of the novel are excluded), and running up to Martin Amis in the present day, Schmidt covers approximately 375 authors. He covers literary fiction and genre fiction, English, American and Colonial (i.e. Canadian, Australian and African) literature, and emphasises those key inflection points when the novel changed course, when each new experiment with its form and content gained traction. Hence we start with didactic and intrusive authors and move to the romantic and sentimental ones, and then on to realism and naturalism, and to the post-modern, and the present that still awaits its own classification. In well-compartmentalised chapters, this book allows you to find a particular author very easily and quickly span the 2-3 pages (maximum) of his or her distinguishing points that make them worthy of inclusion. Schmidt’s bias also plays out here as some authors are given less than the customary three pages, and I was keen to learn more about these short-changed ones, some of whom had far more interesting lives than the featured ones. There is also a Timeline index at the back of the book that helps you find when a particular work (and its author) was published. I sense, based on the credits, that Schmidt had some help from his students in the many universities he taught at on both sides of the Atlantic to gather this vast amount of material, for this can’t be the work of one person; the emphasis on each writer’s life and work being featured varies-interesting though most of the emphases are-and that speaks to multiple writers being involved in the creation of this book. Conversely, if it is a life’s work of a single person, then all I can say is that this author has spent a very fruitful life reading and summing up the great works of literature, and we owe him a great debt. Being a writer and reading this book is refreshing, for it unearths the frustrations, joys, and stories behind the great literary works and their creators. It exposes authors who inherited golden spoons and those who swallowed bitter pills before their work was recognized, it talks about their warts and renders them human. It talks to the political and social shifts that gave recognition to certain works without any influence or exertion by their authors; it reassures those who toil in the dark, it warns those who seek fame. I am not going to elaborate on the various authors highlighted in this mammoth book that runs over 1100 pages; it’s a smorgasbord to be savoured in small portions over several years. I don’t normally re-read a book after it’s done, but I see myself returning to this tome over and over again to find encouragement, insight and understanding of this elusive beast called the Novel that we have all tried to tame many times over but which always eludes us, morphing into another form just as we think we’ve figured it out. It’s a great reference book for anyone interested in the Novel, in literature, and in their creators.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Nathan "N.R." Gaddis

    What sounds to promise a kind of conservative response to the two Moore Novel=books. Not that there's anything really wrong with that, but really when you take a quick gander of comparison between Moore and this Schmidt guy, well, you know which is going to be more interesting. The Atlantic review :: "How the Novel Made the Modern World: And how the modern world unmade the novel" by William Deresiewicz http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/a... What sounds to promise a kind of conservative response to the two Moore Novel=books. Not that there's anything really wrong with that, but really when you take a quick gander of comparison between Moore and this Schmidt guy, well, you know which is going to be more interesting. The Atlantic review :: "How the Novel Made the Modern World: And how the modern world unmade the novel" by William Deresiewicz http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/a...

  8. 5 out of 5

    Maijabeep

    It's official. The Roundtable are big book enablers.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Brenda Clough

    An enormously long and dense read. Is it better to read -about- the novels, or to read the novels themselves?

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lew Watts

    Finally, finally finished it, and what a tour!

  11. 4 out of 5

    David

    Mr. Schmidt’s The Novel: A Biography is another one of those difficult books to review since it is, on the one hand, breath taking in its scale and on the other parochial in its subject matter. Breath taking, because it wishes to tell the history of the novel since its inception [evolutionary origins if you prefer], and parochial because the work wishes to focus on the English Novel. The latter goal is never, really, accomplished because so many novels, written in languages other than English ha Mr. Schmidt’s The Novel: A Biography is another one of those difficult books to review since it is, on the one hand, breath taking in its scale and on the other parochial in its subject matter. Breath taking, because it wishes to tell the history of the novel since its inception [evolutionary origins if you prefer], and parochial because the work wishes to focus on the English Novel. The latter goal is never, really, accomplished because so many novels, written in languages other than English have influenced the English Novel. There is, also, the problem of the antecedents of the novel that are not even mentioned – such as The Tale of Genji [a Japanese classic – published early in the 11th century…if you were to go by the still popular Gregorian Calendar—dating is its own political nightmare]. This being said, ‘The Novel’ is a fascinating attempt to tell the story of the novel in both a chronological and logical manner. Each chapter tends to follow a, generally, chronological motif, but within the chapter other authors are brought in as inheritors or antecedents of the work being discussed. What this does is to help the reader place the book in history and in its influence and, therefore, importance. What is frustrating about Mr. Schmidt’s herculean effort [The Novel is just shy of 1200 pages– one more reason to read the eBook format…as if anyone needed another reason to prefer eBooks to print…but that is another argument] is that there are no endnotes…none at all. In many cases readers might be inclined to disagree or question the author’s assertions and these would help the astute reader to look up primary and secondary references. Anyone reading a history of the novel is likely to do just this – after all, ‘The Novel’ is a book written for aesthetes and nerds. Still, this history is fascinating and very idiosyncratic. The author’s judgements of some writers can be highly dubious at times and at others he appears to be speaking truth to power. Statements such as: “What keeps Burroughs in print and talked about is the company he kept, the force of his rhetoric, and accidental nightmarish life he led.” Schmidt is also dismissive, generally, of the Beats and Kerouac in particular. Nonetheless, he gets it right when he refers to Salinger, via a quote of Lawrence Durrell’s, as a ‘cry baby’…though he refers Kerouac as this within the same quote. These judgements will make the blood of some boil, while others will find themselves nodding in agreement—still others mayn’t give a damn. The major drawback to a book such as The Novel is that it is just too bloody long for most readers, and impossible to carry about in its physical form. Remember, readers read on the go—on the bus, subway, train, in line, the doctor’s office, while waiting for friends, etc. The sheer physical reality of the book does not permit this—this is, however, somewhat offset by the increasing popularity of eBooks. Most readers still prefer print, nonetheless, and this will limit the author’s readership. It might have been better to have broken it up into three or more books for the sake of mobility and the fact that many prospective readers would not be willing to tackle a 1,200 page book—perhaps they’re of the opinion they’ve a life to lead and obligations to meet. Having said all of this, it is an important book, and one that should be read by anyone interested in the history of the English novel. The Novel should also, and most specifically, be read by Indie authors not having a firm grounding in the Canon, in all its mutant glory. After all, if you are going to write fiction you should be aware of the traditions you are writing in. Why Schmidt is important in this respect is that he does not consider the Canon to be made up of strictly Literary Fiction, but also includes important Genre authors as well. He is a little cautious with idea of Literary Fiction and Genre but that is another discussion—shouting match? In the end, this history earns a respectable 4 out of 5 stars. The subtraction of one star is because of its length; its lack of references, and its sometimes-questionable aesthetics—see Burroughs and Kerouac, amongst others. Highly Recommended for those interested in the history of the novel; cultural history, and Indie Authors.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Petra

    Reading this one slowly, with side reads. So far, this book has introduced me to novels that have long been forgotten. An interesting read. Chapter 1: The Travels of Sir John Mandeville Chapter 2: Foxe's Book of Martyrs (as yet unfinished) Chapter 3: The Unfortunate Traveller: Or, the Life of Jack Wilton (not read yet) Chapter 4: The Pilgrim's Progress Chapter 5: Mules and Men (ebook) Chapter 6: Roxana (as yet unfinished) Chapter 14: Crochet Castle Reading this one slowly, with side reads. So far, this book has introduced me to novels that have long been forgotten. An interesting read. Chapter 1: The Travels of Sir John Mandeville Chapter 2: Foxe's Book of Martyrs (as yet unfinished) Chapter 3: The Unfortunate Traveller: Or, the Life of Jack Wilton (not read yet) Chapter 4: The Pilgrim's Progress Chapter 5: Mules and Men (ebook) Chapter 6: Roxana (as yet unfinished) Chapter 14: Crochet Castle

  13. 5 out of 5

    James Murphy

    This is a fascinating book, a history of how the novel's developed as a form since the earliest--Sir John Mandeville, by Schmidt's reckoning--to Martin Amis. Essentially it's a survey of the novel and novelists in the west and is probably intended as a university text. I'm not sure it's necessary to read it cover to cover as I did. It's certainly interesting cover to cover but may be more useful as a handy reference whenever a general review of a particular novelist or novel is desired. It's com This is a fascinating book, a history of how the novel's developed as a form since the earliest--Sir John Mandeville, by Schmidt's reckoning--to Martin Amis. Essentially it's a survey of the novel and novelists in the west and is probably intended as a university text. I'm not sure it's necessary to read it cover to cover as I did. It's certainly interesting cover to cover but may be more useful as a handy reference whenever a general review of a particular novelist or novel is desired. It's comprehensive, impressive in its treatment of every literary novelist under the sun. And surprising as well in a few omissions: Penelope Fitzgerald, Barbara Pym, and Tim Winton. Not always accurate, either--he describes William Boyd's An Ice-Cream War as taking place in North Africa. And I think that in an 1100-page work, where there's one error there are probably more. But I am glad I read it and I do recommend it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    A magnificent survey of the history of novel, which, though it focuses on English-language writers, acknowledges the influences of others, especially Rabelais, Cervantes, and French novelists of the 19th century. Schmidt's gift for grouping writers by theme rather than presenting a purely chronological study of the novel sometimes makes for some bouncing back and forth in time, but is a masterful way of comparing ideas among authors separated by time, distance, and culture. The chapters can stan A magnificent survey of the history of novel, which, though it focuses on English-language writers, acknowledges the influences of others, especially Rabelais, Cervantes, and French novelists of the 19th century. Schmidt's gift for grouping writers by theme rather than presenting a purely chronological study of the novel sometimes makes for some bouncing back and forth in time, but is a masterful way of comparing ideas among authors separated by time, distance, and culture. The chapters can stand alone as essays, making the daunting length of the book a more manageable read. Caution: reading or even simply dipping into this will balloon your to-read list.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Keith

    When I started university the B.A. program’s first year was a mixture of required and elective courses. One had to take a lab science, a foreign language and a full year of English. A setup familiar to many, I’m sure. A friend advised me to avoid the full year survey of English Literature and instead take two half-year courses. The putative justification for this was something to do with countering a bad start in a full year course was harder to overcome than in a half-year course. Even today I When I started university the B.A. program’s first year was a mixture of required and elective courses. One had to take a lab science, a foreign language and a full year of English. A setup familiar to many, I’m sure. A friend advised me to avoid the full year survey of English Literature and instead take two half-year courses. The putative justification for this was something to do with countering a bad start in a full year course was harder to overcome than in a half-year course. Even today I can’t exactly remember the rationale behind it; however, I knew no better and so enrolled in “Canadian Literature” and “The Novel After Dickens.” They were both fine courses but ever since I have regretted missing the full year course that might have instilled me with the sweep of English – From Chaucer to Golding or some such. So for the past five months Michael Schmidt’s history of the novel has held me captive while I sussed out genres, styles and authors that define that history. It is a most unusual book, noteworthy for the fact that, beyond the 1172 page length, all commentary on the books and authors discussed comes from other authors. There are no professional critics cited at all. One might be reading E.M. Forester speaking of Henry James, a discussion that then segues into a discussion of E.M. Forester. Another distinctive mark is that many of the chapters discuss not only a set of authors that belong to a certain chronology the book is presenting but that authors from very different time periods are discussed together. The book is not entirely centered on English speaking authors and due attention is given to Cervantes and to prominent French and Russian authors who influenced or were influenced by certain English speaking authors. An example of the interrupted chronology is Chapter 6, “Impersonations,” which features “Daniel Defoe, Truman Capote, J. M. Coetzee.” Schmidt is masterful at explaining three critical aspects of the novel and novelists. He places each author he has chosen within a larger set of similarly themed writers; he places each writer’s reputation and the current value of their writings before the reader; and finally, for many authors he explains how they work their literary magic. For example, he takes a scene in Jane Austen’s Persuasion and explains how Austen devised the technique of “the style indirect libre, or free indirect style, a way of narrating that integrates both reported thought and speech and direct speech.” Schmidt then quotes a long passage from Persuasion and through this demonstrates how this style gives the reader insights into the character of Anne Elliot (in this case) as well as the society around her. Schmidt also makes recommendations: “Like Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, Clarissa is a kind of acid test for the reader. It is not merely a stage in the evolution of the European novel: it is one of the great novels, and a reader who develops the taste to appreciate it will understand on the pulse what the novel form can be and do.” Comparisons: “London and Hemingway share a direct style, but London pulls the whole melting mess of the iceberg up on shore for us to see, while Hemingway keeps the larger mass submerged in the sea for the reader, viewing only the tip, to infer. Hemingway expected imaginative engagement from readers. London, accustomed to writing for consumers of journalism, had different expectations. London is profligate of detail. Hemingway gives away no more than is absolutely necessary.” Legacies: “[Thomas Wolfe] became famous in his own brief life and he continues to mark American writers. In their formative years they find in him a vibrant self with which to identify. Few reread him in maturity” Schmidt has identified many writers whose legacy is still worth investigating, not as a chore but in the spirit of delight. My list, culled from his suggestions includes many writers I had only heard of before and some I knew not at all. These include, Thomas Love Peacock (Nightmare Abbey), Richard Meredith (Diana of the Crossroads), Bruce Chatwin (In Patagonia), H.E. Bates (Fair Stood the Wind For France).. Added to these examples are at least a dozen more authors I have either never heard of, or know their names but not their work. As is patently obvious this is why The Novel: A Biography is my top non-fiction read of the year.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Newton

    Seven Hundred years of novel writing, novels upon novels pouring into my brain - help! Made me want to never see a novel again. Emphasis is on the academic greats - the staples of English Lit classes. I majored in that crazy altruistic subject in the lonago ages when students could afford to learn about our civilization, not just how to earna living. So I knew most of the authors already, which kept me plodding along. Glad it's done, can't really recommend it, but I guess I'm glad the book exist Seven Hundred years of novel writing, novels upon novels pouring into my brain - help! Made me want to never see a novel again. Emphasis is on the academic greats - the staples of English Lit classes. I majored in that crazy altruistic subject in the lonago ages when students could afford to learn about our civilization, not just how to earna living. So I knew most of the authors already, which kept me plodding along. Glad it's done, can't really recommend it, but I guess I'm glad the book exists.

  17. 4 out of 5

    angie

    I feel like I'm kind of cheating by marking this as "read." The Novel is more of a reference source (a wonderfully fascinating one!) than a book you read in one sitting. I've made my way through a lot of it, but there's still much to take in and it's always handy to have nearby. I hope to buy it in hard copy form when the price goes down. Kindle is great, but The Novel is something you want to be able to flip through in print after consulting the index for topics that particularly interest you.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jenny Baker

    This book is huge and something you'll want to take your time reading. I'd definitely put it in the "buy it" category.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)

    A terrific and rather indispensable reference, and one that I dip into time and again as I find new authors to read. This ought to be on every reader's bookshelf.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sammy

    Should I confess to being underwhelmed by Schmidt's well-praised volume? It is an admirable achievement but one that left me cold. In surveying the novel from its early proto-novel stages to the present day, he encompasses a wide variety of readers, but I'm uncertain about target audience or purpose. Especially in the first half, chapters offer potted biographies of noted (and sometimes forgotten) authors, along with anecdotes and ruminations on their books. But it feels like each chapter is a h Should I confess to being underwhelmed by Schmidt's well-praised volume? It is an admirable achievement but one that left me cold. In surveying the novel from its early proto-novel stages to the present day, he encompasses a wide variety of readers, but I'm uncertain about target audience or purpose. Especially in the first half, chapters offer potted biographies of noted (and sometimes forgotten) authors, along with anecdotes and ruminations on their books. But it feels like each chapter is a handful of Guardian thinkpieces mashed together in book form, without any broader structure. The title is misleading, perhaps that's the problem: this is not a biography of the novel, but rather a tour of people who've written novels. Those are two very different things. I have a university degree in this stuff, and write about books myself, so I felt I was too educated to gain much from Schmidt's writing. Although the latter half of the book was more engaging to me, his thoughts seemed more personal than academic, more introductory than investigative. At the other end of the spectrum, though, Schmidt is prone to referencing other authors, plots, or characters out of context, and it is clear that he is writing for a learned audience. So I would not recommend this book to the young student wanting to discover how the novel has evolved. This leads me to think the best place for this volume is the university library, where individual chapters can be read by those interested in specific subject matters. I echo some of the smart reviews already on Goodreads that this book is evidently brilliant, but it would make a lot more sense if we were in Schmidt's head. He often writes comments that he sees as self-evident, but which need a bit of convincing for the lay reader. Also, a pet peeve which may have biased me against this book: Schmidt has chosen not to cite his references. I accept that I am an extremist, a lover of indices and footnotes. But even if he didn't want to have cumbersome annotations everywhere, he could have gone with the pop-academic form of endnotes that reference back to the page numbers even though there is no corresponding number on the main page. Simply put, when every chapter contains numerous anecdotes and much gossip about the authors and the books, it's even more vital that we know where this came from. We can look up obvious book quotes ourselves if we must, but critical comments (reporting when a modern author said something about an older author, for instance) and salacious biography need to be cited. I say this not as a stickler (although I am) but because anyone keen enough to read through a 1,200 page book on novelists as diverse as Fanny Burney and Martin Amis is giong to need to track down many of the quotes and passing comments. Please!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    What is my problem with this book? I don't want to read it, it's making me crazy, it's eaten one of my book groups in its entirety, and I can't tell what it is about it that makes me want it to crawl away into a hole and die, especially since I haven't even read it in its entirety, only excerpts (though that last, perhaps, is true of everyone, since it's not really a narrative that you read from front to back, but you know what I mean, I haven't given it that fair shake that I probably should be What is my problem with this book? I don't want to read it, it's making me crazy, it's eaten one of my book groups in its entirety, and I can't tell what it is about it that makes me want it to crawl away into a hole and die, especially since I haven't even read it in its entirety, only excerpts (though that last, perhaps, is true of everyone, since it's not really a narrative that you read from front to back, but you know what I mean, I haven't given it that fair shake that I probably should before deciding that I hate it, but hate it I do). So, anyway, what better way to work through the thing than to type furiously something that later I will disagree with even though I wrote it myself? None. Point the first: this seems like a profoundly conservative project. I think this hit home for me when, having started Robbe-Grillet, I thought, okay, I'll give Schmidt another chance and see what he has to say about the nouveau roman. Answer: nothing. Not about the movement and its theories, and not about a single one of its practitioners. NOTHING. NO. THING. Apparently he is not engaging with historical developments, movements, the standard history of what happens to the novel, schools of thought, whatever. It's essentially a long list of books he's read, which he categorizes as he sees fit without reference to history or the history of categorization, and basically in terms of what he likes, which is not that inventive, on the whole. I'm not articulating this right, but I guess it's the worst of the old-fashioned tour of the canon (which, don't get me wrong, has significant merits) without any of the good parts. Where is the organization? The history? The grand récit? I was educated in these books, but in a much more coherent fashion. If we're going to do this the old-fashioned way, let's not discard exactly the parts that are worthwhile from that approach, no? Point the second: book selection. I can't help thinking that despite claims to the novel in every period, transhistorical, across languages, across time, the selection is actually secretly this: these are the books that my colleagues and I teach in English departments. Sure, a lot of them aren't English language works, but the choice of books from outside this language tradition is determined solely by what makes it onto department syllabi for courses taught by professors of a certain age. His selections from among older works is particularly frustrating. I mean, if you want people to hate older works from the English tradition, you just couldn't do worse, and if you want to say the novel transcends history and is some kind of ontological....thing....then you need to look at something before the 15th century and from outside of Europe. England. Whatever, it's fucking weird and, though it will sound strange to say this about a person who has read so many fucking novels, also sort of lazy. I guess I'm saying that, as a person who specialized in an early period of european literature, I would like Michael Schmidt to get the fuck off my early english lawn. Also, I have no idea what his selection criteria are, despite having asked him and gotten a garbled response, and the best hypothesis I can come up with is that for him, it's prose. Which is, if true, in and of itself a profound misunderstanding of early european lit. So, uh, the rant is ongoing. I may regret the tone of this later. And point the third: he says he's not making an argument, but he IS making an argument, or several arguments, albeit implicit ones, and the selection, and the themes, and the loose associations, plus the use of the word novel for books that patently are NOT novels in any responsible HISTORICAL account IS AN ARGUMENT. It's just not openly an argument. He won't admit to his argument. Plus, and this is maybe the meanest I will get in this screed, the reason he won't admit to his argument is that if he did he might have to clean it up. There's nothing like having to actually articulate your points in writing to force you to know what they, like, are. But say you're just not having one, an argument, and suddenly you can fill pages with random thoughts and associations, and trivia and gossip and things that writers said about other writers and you never need any overarching anything, much less to justify your choices and associations, and connections. Which ok, for him, it's fun I guess, but why should I buy and read his cake and eat it too, and why should I have to watch the daily cult of worship that constantly refers back to the book, well SCHMIDT says, like we should listen to him above any other person with any other opinion about the book....why? He's not the boss of us, and lots of people are widely read and well informed and articulate, and if he wants us to go with him over others he needs....well dammit he needs a fucking argument. There. Bile is spewed. Everyone will now hate me for being a negative nancy and spoiling, once again, their fun. But I feel better.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    I love this book. But it doesn't fit on the 'read' or 'currently reading' shelf as much as a 'perpetually reading' shelf. I brought it to Laos because, despite its burdensome size, it's great to consult. It's like calling up an old friend and having a chat. When I finish books I will go to the index and see if they're mentioned, or if not I will go to the contents and looks through the system of categorisation and wonder where Michael Schmidt would put them. It's like this guy has read everythin I love this book. But it doesn't fit on the 'read' or 'currently reading' shelf as much as a 'perpetually reading' shelf. I brought it to Laos because, despite its burdensome size, it's great to consult. It's like calling up an old friend and having a chat. When I finish books I will go to the index and see if they're mentioned, or if not I will go to the contents and looks through the system of categorisation and wonder where Michael Schmidt would put them. It's like this guy has read everything, and he writes like a poet (note:he is a poet), and even though I don't understand everything he says his passion for fiction is infectious (mind you, he is preaching to the converted here). He mentions that he loves the first books by an author and the single book of poets. Me too! How nice it is to meet someone who shares silly romantic notions. Here's the first quote I could find that I have written down. it's about his categorisation system and why the novel isn't sorted chronologically. “Development is not invariable, progressive, assimilative, or linear… its manifestations alter in relation to language, histories, and geography. If the novel is dead then I suppose we are at its funeral and many of us are recording our visions of its after life.” I won't see this book again until November and I think i'm going to miss it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Joan Kerr

    This is an absolutely enchanting book, but be warned: it may make you feel like Achilles in Zeno’s paradox, chasing the tortoise you can never catch. If you’re inclined to panic or despair at the thought of all the great and interesting books you still haven’t read, you’ll need to speak sternly and calmly to yourself as you dive into this inexhaustible supply of literary history, anecdote, critique and reflection. A few novels ask to be re-read and become living parts of memory that affect how w This is an absolutely enchanting book, but be warned: it may make you feel like Achilles in Zeno’s paradox, chasing the tortoise you can never catch. If you’re inclined to panic or despair at the thought of all the great and interesting books you still haven’t read, you’ll need to speak sternly and calmly to yourself as you dive into this inexhaustible supply of literary history, anecdote, critique and reflection. A few novels ask to be re-read and become living parts of memory that affect how we hear, speak, see, feel, and act. Those novels and their authors are this book’s quarry, and those that provide sources and context for them, or that imitate and cannibalize them (7) Just like the biography of a person, the book builds over a chronological line the mountains, gullies, forests and byways of individual personality, connection and accident. It isn’t the kind of book you read from start to finish. It invites dipping and flipping, every discovery prompting another. Schmidt is interested in everything about writers and he’s read so much that he sees connections everywhere. Have you ever thought of comparing Truman Capote to Daniel Defoe? Bruce Chatwin to W.H. Hudson? Did you know Nabokov read zoology at Cambridge and published a learned paper on the Lepidoptera of the Crimea? Is Lolita “the best travel book ever written about America”, as Christopher Isherwood said? Did Hitler contrive the Second World War because he hated Finnegans Wake so much, as Flann O’Brien claimed? Did you know Steinbeck’s puppy ate half the original ms of Of Mice and Men? Is Iris Murdoch just “pulling one’s leg” as Rebecca West thought? And if so, why? And perhaps most importantly of all, had you heard that the coolness between Margaret Drabble and her sister A.S. Byatt arose over a family tea set? There’s time for such detail as we wander Schmidt’s literary forest: Between the lofty trunks of the great novels and novelists is the lower growth of the good and not so good a forest that feeds and sustains; and among that lesser vegetation there is much that rewards attention (2) From Mandeville’s Travels in the 14th century to Martin Amis in the 21st, this is a booklover’s dream come true. But oh no, he’s also written Lives of the Poets – is there no end to it? You need this book. You really do. Put it on your Christmas list.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Frederic Hunter

    THE NOVEL: A Biography got a stellar review in The Atlantic, saying that Michael Schmidt would prove an interesting companion on what was sure to be quite a journey. That’s why I bought the book. The important question, of course, was: What was the best way to read this book? It didn’t sound as if toting around a tome of 1127 pages was going be much fun so I chose it as an e-book. I read it on an iPad. That meant I would probably have to forego using it as a reference. It has that capability. I THE NOVEL: A Biography got a stellar review in The Atlantic, saying that Michael Schmidt would prove an interesting companion on what was sure to be quite a journey. That’s why I bought the book. The important question, of course, was: What was the best way to read this book? It didn’t sound as if toting around a tome of 1127 pages was going be much fun so I chose it as an e-book. I read it on an iPad. That meant I would probably have to forego using it as a reference. It has that capability. I know there will be times when I wish I could lug it to my desk and dip back into its 45 chapters covering several hundred authors. The iPad may have that capability, but I haven’t mastered it yet. It worked well as an e-book. I started to read it straight through, but realized that that was a foolish way to proceed. Its riches needed to be savored. So it took me quite literally several months to finish. I would read a chapter, put it aside and then remember that it was there in the iPad and go back to it. Sometimes I would think, “Yes, I do want to read that,” and make a note of the book. It was also clear very quickly that I had truly embarked on a journey. The best way to travel with Michael Schmidt, I realized, was to be grateful for a guide who seems not only to have read everything, but also to have considered it all carefully. Not much fun to take a trip with a guide you want to argue with all the time. I chose not to argue with Schmidt. Not to complain, “Where are the footnotes? In an enterprise of this kind I’ve got a right to footnotes.” Rather I enjoyed Schmidt’s scope, his knowledge, his opinions and the writers and essayists whose opinions he liberally shared. Sometimes on a trip you’re surprised that your guide has neglected to include such-and-such a sight. But clearly on a journey like this, where there are so many wonders to behold, it’s not possible to include everything. I quite enjoyed the trip. Each chapter seemed like having an intelligent conversation with an excellent tour guide. I heartily recommend it to you on that basis.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Uwe Hook

    ‘The Novel’ is a fascinating attempt to tell the story of the novel in both a chronological and logical manner. Each chapter tends to follow a, generally, chronological motif, but within the chapter other authors are brought in as inheritors or antecedents of the work being discussed. What this does is to help the reader place the book in history and in its influence and, therefore, importance. The author’s judgements of some writers can be highly dubious at times and at others he appears to be s ‘The Novel’ is a fascinating attempt to tell the story of the novel in both a chronological and logical manner. Each chapter tends to follow a, generally, chronological motif, but within the chapter other authors are brought in as inheritors or antecedents of the work being discussed. What this does is to help the reader place the book in history and in its influence and, therefore, importance. The author’s judgements of some writers can be highly dubious at times and at others he appears to be speaking truth to power. The major drawback to a book such as The Novel is that it is just too bloody long for most readers, and impossible to carry about in its physical form. Remember, readers read on the go—on the bus, subway, train, in line, the doctor’s office, while waiting for friends, etc. The sheer physical reality of the book does not permit this—this is, however, somewhat offset by the increasing popularity of eBooks. Most readers still prefer print, nonetheless, and this will limit the author’s readership. Having said all of this, it is an important book, and one that should be read by anyone interested in the history of the English novel.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Fernando Pérez Pérez

    Great in scope, very interesting overview and detailed approach until the last chapters. However, it's greatly flawed when it comes to the second half of the twentieth century. Amis? Really? And Thom Wolfe deserving 8 times the space that Joan Didion deserves? Sometimes seems to lack insight when it comes to critical theory, literary theory, and attention to more recent great female authors. He is intellingent, and not in the scholarly, pretentious way, I'll give him that. He's a writer talking Great in scope, very interesting overview and detailed approach until the last chapters. However, it's greatly flawed when it comes to the second half of the twentieth century. Amis? Really? And Thom Wolfe deserving 8 times the space that Joan Didion deserves? Sometimes seems to lack insight when it comes to critical theory, literary theory, and attention to more recent great female authors. He is intellingent, and not in the scholarly, pretentious way, I'll give him that. He's a writer talking about novelists. Good. But he is supporting the status quo to an irritating extent. Until he reaches the XXth century, he is solid, sometimes great, and from then on, outlines a coherent perspective very good to fight with. Schmidt is the market, he is particularly biased when it comes to the present. - You are wrong, Michael Schmidt, you are a bland-minded servant of literary agents! - Jokes aside, a solid, interesting book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jason Furman

    I read this on and off for more than a year, an epic achievement, a history of the novel in 45 chapters of about ten novelists per chapter--from Mandeville through Martin Amis. Organized loosely chronologically, each chapter is thematic--some in standard forms (e.g., gothic romance) and others more innovative (imperfection), many of which include a modern author or two. The book does not really form a thematic whole but somehow each author segues nicely into the next and each chapter into the ne I read this on and off for more than a year, an epic achievement, a history of the novel in 45 chapters of about ten novelists per chapter--from Mandeville through Martin Amis. Organized loosely chronologically, each chapter is thematic--some in standard forms (e.g., gothic romance) and others more innovative (imperfection), many of which include a modern author or two. The book does not really form a thematic whole but somehow each author segues nicely into the next and each chapter into the next, with barely any introduction and no conclusion. As such, it makes as much sense to keep it around as a guide, but rather than just reading about a single author you should read the entire chapter they are in to get a broader perspective for context and links to other novelists.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Shay

    15 Jan. 2016 Just received this book and started leafing through it, to get a sense of what I'm up against. I stopped at the pages dedicated to Nathanael West and since I'm quite familiar with him, read a bit here and there. I immediately noticed two rather glaring errors: 1. It's claimed West spent two years in Paris working on a book but in fact he was only there for 3 months (he often lied that it was longer) 2. One of his main characters is identified as a 70-year-old when it is in fact stated 15 Jan. 2016 Just received this book and started leafing through it, to get a sense of what I'm up against. I stopped at the pages dedicated to Nathanael West and since I'm quite familiar with him, read a bit here and there. I immediately noticed two rather glaring errors: 1. It's claimed West spent two years in Paris working on a book but in fact he was only there for 3 months (he often lied that it was longer) 2. One of his main characters is identified as a 70-year-old when it is in fact stated quite clearly that he is 40. It may not be much in the grand scheme of an 1100 page book, but it has somewhat diminished my enthusiasm, and I will certainly approach the book with more skepticism... To be continued...

  29. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    Ok, wow this book was a lot. It's incredibly long and does cover quite an amazing array of Western literature. There is not much of a overall story arc to the history of the novel so really this is more of a survey. It does make interesting connections between authors, both in terms of their real life interactions as well as the way that their work influenced each other.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Shawn Towner

    This book is scary. Scary intimidating in terms of its size. Scary detailed in the depth and breadth of information in the book. And scary in how it shows you just how little you actually know about the history of the novel. But its scariness, this is a wonderfully readable and fascinating book.

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