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How Novels Work [Paperback]

John Mullan
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
RRP: 7.99
Price: 5.59 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

14 Feb 2008
Drawing on his weekly Guardian column, "Elements of Fiction" John Mullan offers an engaging look at the novel, focusing mostly on works of the last ten years as he illuminates the rich resources of novelistic technique. Mullan sheds light on some of the true masterworks of contemporary fiction, including Monica Ali's Brick Lane, J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace, Don DeLillo's Underworld, Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Patricia Highsmith's Ripley under Ground, Ian McEwan's Atonement, John le Carré's The Constant Gardener, Philip Roth's The Human Stain, Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated, and Zadie Smith's White Teeth. He highlights how these acclaimed authors use some of the basic elements of fiction. Some topics (like plot, dialogue, or location) will appear familiar to most novel readers, while others (meta-narrative, prolepsis, amplification) will open readers' eyes to new ways of understanding and appreciating the writer's craft. Mullan also excels at comparing modern and classic authors-Nick Hornby's adoption of a female narrator is compared to Daniel Defoe's; Ian McEwan's use of weather is set against Austen's and Hardy's. How Novels Work explains how the pleasures of novel reading often come from the formal ingenuity of the novelist, making visible techniques and effects we are often only half-aware of as we read. It is an entertaining and stimulating volume that will captivate anyone who is interested in the contemporary or the classical novel.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; Reprint edition (14 Feb 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199281785
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199281787
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 13.1 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 54,767 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

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Product Description


It strikes me that none of our readers can afford to be without this book! I'm an admirer of John Mullan's 'Guardian' columns, and this is definitely something that we should be reviewing. Edward Fenton. 'The Oxford Writer A brilliant crash course in contemporary fiction Waterstones Books Quarterly

About the Author

John Mullan is Professor of English at University College London. He is the author of Sentiment and Sociability: The Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth Century and co-editor of Eighteenth-Century Popular Culture: An Anthology. A broadcaster and journalist as well as an academic, he writes a weekly column on contemporary fiction for the Guardian.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
THE Novel, that most accessible, democratic of literary forms, must establish its contract with its reader. Read the first page
Browse Sample Pages
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative and entertaining 15 Mar 2009
By Didier TOP 500 REVIEWER
Amidst the dozens if not hundreds of 'books about books' or literary theory I found Mullan's work a very refreshing read. True enough, it shows that it is based on Mullan's weekly articles for The Guardian and was not from the very beginning conceived of and planned as a book as such, but that doesn't detract from the informed and insightful way Mullan treats his subject matter. On the contrary, I found it all the more easy to read and - if need be - lay aside for a while to resume reading some days or weeks later, as all the pieces are 'bite-sized'.

In a little over 80 articles, as diverse as 'the anti-hero', 'weather', 'plot' or 'intertextuality', Mullan treats the following subjects:
- Beginning
- Narrating
- People
- Genre
- Voices
- Structure
- Detail
- Style
- Devices
- Literariness
- Ending

By no means will you find in this book an exhaustive treatment of the above-subjects, but all in all this still is a very good book to give you a good enough grasp of 'how novels work' to read them with all the more pleasure afterwards.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The laypersons guide to the novel. 27 Oct 2008
This book is aimed directly at the interested reader as opposed to the scholar and works better for it. Of course, some will want deeper links to literary theory and a gretaer range of discussion but if, like so many, you read novels for pleasure as opposed to study and simply wish to know a little more as to how writers create the effects and emotions they do, then this is the book for you.

John Mullan does a superb job of guiding you through certain techniques used by writers to present their stories. Any complex theories are alluded to in clear, understandable language. For some this may dilute the quality but again, this book is aimed at the more 'general reader' who is perhaps less interested in the complexities of the theory itself and more interested in why the novels they read work as they do.

I would recommend this to any reader of fiction who is perplexed at how writers are able to move us as they do.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How Novels Work 1 Sep 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
John Mullan wrote a weekly column for 'The Guardian' newspaper called 'Elements of Fiction'. In the column, Professor Mullan looked at novels of the recent past, many of which had become favourites of reading groups, such as 'Atonement' by Ian McEwan and 'The Blind Assassin' by Margaret Atwood. This book draws on that weekly column to provide a detailed examination of the novelist's craft. It looks in turn at each aspect of the novel, starting with titles and ending in epilogues and postscripts. As well as contemporary fiction, Professor Mullan also uses examples from the classics of English literature, such as the use of recollection in Daniel Defoe's 'Robinson Crusoe' and Jane Austen's use of free indirect style in 'Emma'. This books gets quite technical at times, but although Professor Mullan does employ terms like 'heteroglossia', he also provides lucid explanations within the text rather than having the reader refer to a glossary at the end of the book. 'Heteroglossia', if you were wondering, refers to a method of story telling with many different narrative voices, as in James Joyce's 'Ulysses', as opposed to the unified narrator's voice of Charlotte Bronte's 'Jane Eyre'.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The inner workings of a novel 5 Feb 2011
Anyone who simply wants to skim the surface of 'novels' and who is not at all interested in the process and mechanics of how a writer produces what they (the reader)is reading, will not be interested in this book. For those of us who are interested in the conscious (and unconscious?) writing process, then this book is a great place to begin. I won't repeat what other reviewers have already written, suffice to say that any wannabe writer or anyone with more than a passing interest in the novel should read this book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars enlightening book 12 Nov 2010
I wish I had read this book years ago ,a must for book group readers.
How refreshing to be able to read and immediately understand an academic book,this is a book that gets over the information in a clear concise and enjoyable way.
I loved it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real book on writing. 7 Sep 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bought the book for a class and look forward to the teachers comments. I have read many books on writing this is the first that actually explained the terms often used by scholars to those of us that want to write. The three hundred or so pages are broken into relevant chapters that are easy to read. The examples are relevant. Unlike other books it is not an ego trip for the author.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful Reference 8 Jun 2011
By Calypso
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating insight into the mechanics of novels. Based on John Mullan's articles in the Guardian it looks at a wide range of, predominantly, contemporary fiction. From his articles he has extracted particular critical themes, such as narrating, people, genre etc., and then subdivides these into particular aspects within each theme e.g. tense, motivation, magical realism.

Each section is interesting and instructive. However, the structure of the book makes it more of a reference source than a cover to cover read, not least because the slicing and dicing of the original articles and the journalistic style make each literary reference clipped and fragmented, detracting from the undoubted critical skill underlying the work.

Nevertheless, well worth persevering with.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Not quite what I was expecting.
Not really what I was looking for. I really wanted help in writing a novel but this did not help me.
Published 4 months ago by Mrs Joanne Deakin
5.0 out of 5 stars such a good book
It's great to have next to your bed so that you can dip into it. I also teach IB english lit, and find it very useful especially when discussing structure of narratives.
Published 6 months ago by Louise H. Neame
5.0 out of 5 stars How novels work
A very good book by John Mullan. Very good at bringing his point across and I would say a must for anyone wanting to know just how a novel does work. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Mrs. Margaret G. Thomas
5.0 out of 5 stars Serious about writing: read this
There are many books like this, but when a great writer goes to the effort of producing one, you should read it. Read more
Published 12 months ago by thewritingIMP
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
An excellent down to earth guide for an A Level English Literature student; I sent another copy to my niece.
Published 13 months ago by paddywack
5.0 out of 5 stars How Novels Work
The author writes in an entertaining style as he explains the various components which make up novels with copious examples from fiction ancient and modern. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Damaskcat
1.0 out of 5 stars Watery
After reading the flavoursome How Fiction Works by James Woods, I thought I would be in for another good meal of learning about the recipes of the masters. Read more
Published on 28 Feb 2011 by Helps
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting.
Not quite what I wanted from the book, but still a fascinating and clear guide to how writers write novels!
Published on 27 May 2010 by Scampo
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