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The Writer's Voice [Paperback]

Al Alvarez
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

17 April 2006
What makes good writing good? In his brilliant new book, Al Alvarez argues that it is the development of the voice - voice as distinct from style - that makes a writer great. A poet as well as a critic, Al Alvarez approaches his subject both as an informed observer and an insider. Here are - among others - Sylvia Plath, John Donne, Jean Rhys, Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot, Coleridge and W. B. Yeats, dissected with clarity, depth and a profound understanding of the mechanics of writing. Like the best literary criticism, "The Writer's Voice" makes writing come vividly alive. Written with passion and insight, it is the ideal gift for anyone who loves to read.

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The Writer's Voice + Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer on Writing + The Art of Fiction
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Product details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; New edition edition (17 April 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747579318
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747579311
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 23,093 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Authors

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Product Description


‘An impressive performance by a poet who allows nothing to come between him and the literature he loves’ -- Frank Kermode

‘Eloquent essays, rich in anecdote, from the hand of a true and lifelong servant of poetry’ -- J.M. Coetzee

About the Author

Al Alvarez is a poet, novelist, literary critic, anthologist, and author of many highly praised non-fiction books on topics ranging from suicide, divorce, and dreams - The Savage God, Life After Marriage, Night - to poker, North Sea oil, and mountaineering - The Biggest Game in Town, Offshore, Feeding the Rat. His most recent books are New and Selected Poems and an autobiography, Where Did It All Go Right? He lives in London.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent little book 25 Nov 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you are looking at this book you should probably buy it. It's one of those books you don't want to read too quickly. Both because it's densely written and because you want to draw out the pleasure of reading it. It's spare but rich in arresting insights - Alvarez's own and many beautifully apposite quotes. The author's voice gives confidence in his complete grasp of his subject from the first sentence and never falters, while remaining unselfimportant and an engaging read. At one point he quotes I. A. Richards on metre, "'s effect is not due to our perceiving a pattern in something outside us, but to our becoming patterned ourselves." I loved that and the book is packed with stuff like that. He quotes Coleridge on poetry as something which, "contains in itself the reasons why it is so and not otherwise". Virginia Woolf, "Style is a very simple matter; it is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can't use the wrong words". (This is from the start of a fascinating quote from Woolf, which goes deep into her justification for this assertion.) It's a really excellent little book. Buy it and read it, become patterned by it.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential for all writers 20 Oct 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Alvarez explores voice, not as style, but as something Roth described as 'starting behind the knees and ending somewhere above the head.' Drawing on Freud, he suggests that finding your voice is like something akin to expressing your true adult identity (Jung would have called it 'Self'.) The text also examines the differences between poetry and prose, and is suggestive without being judgmental. A book that can be revisited again and again.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and engaging 2 Aug 2008
This short book is beautifully written and absorbingly interesting, and will have you looking at authors you might not like with a fresh and more tolerant eye. He talks about writers having a `tone of voice'. He talks too about readers having to learn to listen, and how easy it is to get sucked into `the cult of personality'. He's obviously not happy about `the shift from art to marketing', where what is produced becomes of secondary interest compared to the author's (or artist's) life.

As you read, you find yourself pausing to have a think about what's been said, to ask yourself if you agree or disagree. The author has firm views, but I never felt that he was beating me about the head with them; rather, I was being asked to consider if perhaps he had a point. On balance, I thought he did.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Stroll in the Posh Park 17 Feb 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This small tract collects together three lectures given by Alvarez in New York in 2002. Although separate lectures, they run together here as continuous chapters, and there would be little sense in reading them as anything other than an article in their own right.

His first lecture, `Finding a Voice', describes the basic authorial skills expected today: an economy of words, good technique, specific imagery, directness, and authenticity. What Alvarez talks about here is his Modernist ideal of the writer as an artist, and he uses Plath's `The Moon and the Yew Tree', as his guide to perfection.
His second lecture, `Listening', describes the importance of allowing ones musicality to simmer through language's formal rules. Alvarez declares chaos and unpredictability to be as important as skill in itself, taking Alfred Brendel, Novalis and Einstein as telling sources here.
He concludes by emphasising the complicity of both skill and instinct in any true art. I thought Alvarez began to get self-defensive here; he inveighs against the Beat generation's reaction to (his ideal of) high Modernism, accusing them of ushering in a fake relationship between the poet, the work, and the audience. Apparently, today, we are all too scared of understanding art and so prefer to become absorbed in personalities, like Emin, splashed across tabloids.

Despite the elitist tones echoing round this book, Alvarez is good to his own word; he keeps away from both cliché and jargon, and strolls around his subject naturally, at ease with what he's saying whilst knowing he's saying it well. This is definitely worth a peruse.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Writer's Voice - can you hear it? 22 Aug 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Part of the Norton Lecture series of short books, "The Writer's Voice" explores the stylistics and linguistic content we consider to be "the writer"; on one double page, he examines Lawrence, John Donne, Albert Einstein, Thomas Wyatt and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The unusual, odd-man-out writer in the list is used to comment, as he did, that creative thinking is "a physical process, 'visual ... muscular' deeply embedded in the body-mind" and to point out that, in his line of work - atomic physics - words and language in the normal sense of those words, did not play a great part in his thinking. (P58)
Alvarez' view of art as a quest for order and rationality by people who are not very orderly or (in some cases) sane themselves but, nevertheless, quite loveable, will not be to everyone's taste not will his passionately held views about the writers' voice but they will make you think and deserve attention.
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