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Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers [Kindle Edition]

Janet Malcolm
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Selected essays from America's foremost literary journalist and essayist, featuring ruminations on writers and artists as diverse as Edith Wharton, Diane Arbus and the Bloomsbury Group. This charismatic and penetrating collection includes Malcolm's now iconic essay about the painter David Salle.

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Product Description


No living writer has narrated the drama of turning the messy and meaningless world into words as brilliantly, precisely, and analytically as Janet Malcolm . . . Her -influence is so vast that much of the writing world has begun to think in the charged, analytic terms of a Janet Malcolm passage. --Katie Roiphe, The Paris Review[A] master of the profile...alluring, pointed, singularly perceptive tellings. --The New Yorker Forty-One False Starts [is] a powerfully distinctive and very entertaining literary experience. . . what the reader remembers is Janet Malcolm: her cool intelligence, her psychoanalytic knack for noticing and her talent for withdrawing in order to let her subjects hang themselves with their own words. . .These short pieces [are] unmistakably the work of a master. --Adam Kirsch, The New York Times Forty-One False Starts is a remarkable and, in its strange way, gripping piece of work. It achieves the rare feat of communication something valuable about the largely ineffable 'creative process. --Zoe Heller, The New York Review of Books [An] invigorating new collection . . . keenly intelligent journalism that feels, always, as if it had been written by a human being, one with a beating heart, a moral compass, a wide-ranging curiosity, and a point of view. --Laura Collins-Hughes, The Boston Globe Even if you've been reading Janet Malcolm for years, the critical appreciations collected in Forty-One False Starts may surprise you. The title essay is (or pretends to be) a series of scrapped beginnings to her profile of the painter David Salle, a giant of the art world in vulnerable mid-career. If you want to write magazine prose, this alone should make you buy the book. Ranging from Bloomsbury to Edward Weston to J.D. Salinger, the entire book is full of stylistic daring, fine distinctions, and bold judgments set down at the speed of thought.Lorin Stein, The Paris Review online --Various

'In this collection of essays, Malcolm casts her famously penetrating eye over a disparate collection of writers and artists, living and dead. Perhaps the most interesting piece, A Girl of the Zeitgeist, perfectly captures the cartoon-like egos and theatrical self-obsession of the New York art world of the Eighties' --'Paperback of the Week', Mail on Sunday

'She approaches each subject with a dry shrewdness that is brilliant and slightly addictive' --Paperback review, Evening Standard

'Exhilarating essays on art and literature' --Paperback review, Observer

'Malcolm skewers the pretensions of biographers' --'Book of the Year', TLS

About the Author

JANET MALCOLM is widely considered to be America's pre-eminent literary journalist. She is a staff writer for the New Yorker and the author of several critically acclaimed books, including In the Freud Archives, The Journalist and the Murderer, Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey and The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, all published by Granta. She won the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award in Biography for Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice [Yale University Press] in 2008. She lives in New York.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 492 KB
  • Print Length: 317 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0374157693
  • Publisher: Granta Books (1 Aug. 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00C7H14BS
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #300,023 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars 17 Feb. 2015
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Malcolm's writing is brilliant 5 Jun. 2013
By Jim F. Baughman - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I got bogged down in the VERY long essay about Artforum magazine, and I don't agree with Malcolm's enthusiasm for J.D. Salinger's writing (he's got a very narrow focus and his characters are really more petulant than anything else). But the David Salle piece which opens the collection (and furnishes its title) is a masterpiece.

She also skillfully demolished the blowsy excess of the catalog of the SanFrancisco Art Museum's Diane Arbus exhibit, making the point that learning every last jot of trivia about a person does not contribute to understanding them. I will remember this line forever: "What Helen of Troy did in her spare time, and what she was "really like" as a person, are not questions that torture us."
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars More of a deaf ear than I remember from the NYRB 21 Jan. 2014
By Kylo Ginsberg - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I mostly know Janet Malcolm from reading (some of) her essays in the New York Review of Books and the New Yorker. And truth be told, the only one I remembered was the essay that became the book Iphigenia in Forest Hills. In short, I frankly bought this on pedigree and vague memories of good writing, a bad premise.

So I put this book down after the first 5 essays, 2 on artists, 3 on writers. The first one, which gives the book its title, was entertaining, but she clearly got carried away with the *notion* of her essay (the 41 false starts reflecting on and relating to Salle's work), to the ultimate expense of her actual subject. The second, on Struth, gave me some hope as it was actually pretty good, albeit on an artist I know nothing about.

Her writing on writers was all strikeouts for me: she doesn't get Wharton at all, her Woolf/Bloomsbury piece wasn't much more than an abbreviated biography, and her Salinger piece was momentously uninsightful.

So I had to put this down. If there's a theme here, it's that Malcolm gets entranced with some idea or notion and, with that idea in hand, is as likely as not to misread her subject, or to forget them, or occasionally to notice something about them. Unfortunately, that last option just wasn't happening often enough.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The artistic side 26 July 2014
By Jay Dickson - Published on
Janet Malcolm's best pieces usually turn on crime, psychoanalysis, and/or the art of journalism itself, which she has famously suggested are all interrelated. She also harbors a great love for literature and the arts, and though she's turned more and more to these other interests in her recent years, its only allowed her to produce one classic (THE SILENT WOMAN, about Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes) that can stand alongside her very best book-length essays on the earlier obsessions, such as IN THE FREUD ARCHIVES and THE JOURNALIST AND THE MURDERER. The pieces collected here concern her artistic interests, and though almost all are enormously enjoyable (few non-fiction writers today write in such an intelligent and lively fashion), they're not as well thought-out as her pieces on non-artistic themes. Too often Malcolm will make a grand assertion without backing it up: in "Salinger's Cigarettes," for example, she takes head on the many critics of Salinger's Glass family stories and asserts his novella "Zooey" is his masterpiece without ever really showing why she thinks that (and even undercuts her grand claim by agreeing the famous "Fat Lady" anecdote that forms the novella's climax is "condescending"). Similarly she groups Wharton with the second tier of American novelists without really telling why. The better pieces are mostly the longer ones: there's a nice profile on the much loved German photographer Thomas Struth on the eve of a grand commission (photographing Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip for their official anniversary portrait), and a very fine piece on the myth of the Bloomsbury group and how the memoir of Angelica Garnett (the daughter of Vanessa Bell and niece of Virginia Woolf) disrupted it. There's also a very funny short, almost throwaway piece on the pleasures of the "Gossip Girl" books that's as much a guilty pleasure as its subject. Oddly included is one of Malcolm's best mid-career profiles in the arts, of the editor Ingrid Sischy, that was previously included in THE PURLOINED CLINIC.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Glimpse into a critic's mind; read for the title essay alone 26 Oct. 2014
By Genevieve DeGuzman - Published on
Some say the best-written reviews and critiques reveal something about the critic as much as the subject being reviewed. With that criteria, you would think Forty-one False Starts by Janet Malcolm would be brilliant, the writing being so self-absorbed.

To be fair, the title essay was fascinating and engaging, a critique of the larger-than-life artist David Salle told in 41 short sections that give us different facets and points of view on Salle; its unique form is a commentary on the writing/creative process itself. But all the other essays in the collection didn't really keep my attention. It could be my limited knowledge of the contemporary art world, which is Malcolm's area, and is a world itself that is self-absorbed and insular. Sorry, this book wasn't for me, though I may not have been registering the writerly brilliance in its full form due to my lukewarm interest in the subject matter.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best nonfiction writer working today 28 Nov. 2013
By Robert Agee - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I like reading about the art world and creativity and even if I didn't I would like to read what Janet Malcolm Writes about it. It was a nice surprise to find that one of the players in her art world drama had gone to my high school in Cincinnati and I always wondered what happened to him. The role of esoteric art critic in New York City seems to be a natural extension of who he was as an outspoken, rebellious student in an elite, college preparatory high school in the Midwest. I also find it interesting when anybody can make some sense out of the mishmash of what I view as the New York City art world. I believe Tom Wolfe is correct when he said that the word makes the message in the art world. It is not what you see is what you get it is what you see is formed by the art critic you are listening to about that piece of artwork.
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