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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good advice, 11 Sept. 2009
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel (Paperback)
Hugely ambitious and not always equal to it, nevertheless Jane Smiley has done a real service to any reader interested in looking at theory and practice in novel writing. She comes to the subject from a North American angle, of course, but the warmth and generosity of her writing make up for any limits of exposition. She takes the `problem' of the novel and applies thirteen questions or propositions: What is a Novel?; Who is a Novelist?; Origins; Psychology; Morality; Art; History; Circle (based on structures, styles, types and themes); two chapters on how and what to write if you are contemplating a novel of your own; and a case history, using her novel, Good Faith. The thirteenth chapter comprises one to three pages each on one hundred novels, chosen not because they are necessarily the `greatest' examples, but because they exemplify a trait or aspect of novels or novel writing that Smiley feels to be important.

To get the carping over first, I have to say that towards the end the reviews became randomly idiosyncratic and a little patchy. She is condescending to David Lodge, insulting to Ian McEwan and from out of nowhere chooses a novel because her daughter gave it to her on holiday (Jennifer Egan's Look at Me). But Smiley is not an academic (though she does teach) and might be excused a lack of rigour. It must have been a hell of a commitment to read 100 novels (it took her three years) and to give her considerable intelligence to the task of writing about them.

I like her novels a lot, so I am happy to let her tell me what it is about novel reading and writing that she believes is important. She comes up with much that is highly engaging and interesting and I found reading about books I have not heard of, or which I haven't considered reading myself, was both instructive and, sometimes, provoking. I would put her critical abilities fairly high, though she can be rather flattening when it comes to assessing relative merits, one against another. She doesn't often fall into `either/or' judgements, however and is mostly lively and committed. This is, in fact, a very good read (though at 570 pages it is not a light undertaking for the average reader).
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great advice, 7 May 2007
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This review is from: Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel (Paperback)
The best thing about this book is the practical, hands-on advice on a) how to finish the rough draft of your novel, and b) how to revise the rough draft of your novel. Smiley says that 'it's not your job to judge your first draft; it's your job to understand it', and this I found incredibly helpful.

Two chapters are devoted to this hands-on advice. The rest of the (rather bulky and unwieldy) book contains general musings on fiction writing, some interesting background on how she wrote her own novels, and plot synopses and musings on 100 novels, ranging from Jane Austen to Nancy Mitford. The last is quite interesting but doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the book.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Smiley - simply the best, 25 Mar. 2007
This review is from: Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel (Paperback)
If you like Smiley's wonderful novels, you will enjoy this insightful, passionate look at novels, their readers and writers. Every page contains a comment which illuminates and inspires. This is the best book on writing I've read. The book is huge, but Smiley's charm and erudition make it a page-turner.
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Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel
Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley (Paperback - 4 May 2006)
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