on 20 February 2001
This collection of essays represents an understated and friendly guide. Thorough but accessible, Lodge has written a readable journey into the ways in which texts can be read. Although neither as challenging nor thought-provoking as more academic volumes on 'ways of reading', The Art of Fiction has the brevity and lightness of touch that makes it an excellent starting point for those interested in fiction in all its forms, and for those who want to indulge in the magical variety of classic and contemporary fiction.
on 9 July 2007
"The Art of Fiction" is divided into 50 chapters, each devoted to a different aspect or theme in fiction (in this case primarily novel-writing). Some of these themes are standard topics: 'Beginning', 'Point of View', 'Introducing a Character', 'Chapters' and 'Ending' for example. Others are more unusual: including 'Suspense', 'Symbolism', 'Epiphany', 'The Telephone' as well as more technical-sounding topics such as 'Aporia' and 'Intertextuality'. Through these themes Lodge explores the construction of the novel and underlines the sheer variety of approaches taken by different writers over the course of time.
Each chapter is drawn from an article in Lodge's own newspaper column, which means that the subject matter is easily accessible and digestible for the casual reader. Lodge's style is easy to read and follow and he occasionally intersperses his analysis with his own anecdotes. This is 'a book to browse in, and dip into', as Lodge himself explains, which assumes very little prior knowledge of the texts concerned. Indeed his subjects are very diverse, ranging from Henry Fielding in the 18th century, and Victorian writers such as Brontë and Dickens, all the way to 20th-century authors including, among many others, George Orwell and Kazuo Ishiguro. However, it is not necessary to have read all - or even any - of these texts, as Lodge begins each chapter with a relevant passage quoted in full to illustrate his point.
The goal of "The Art of Fiction" is to enhance the reader's understanding of modern literature, and not explicitly to teach lessons in composition to aspiring authors. Nevertheless, for any writer it is always instructive to dissect those works which have gone before, and this book would therefore be of tremendous use.
Everything considered, "The Art of Fiction" is a worthy addition to the bookshelf of anyone with an interest in deconstructing how modern fiction works - either the casual reader or the student. Recommended.
on 14 June 2003
As an aspiring novelist I can highly recommend this book. In fifty chapters David Lodge explains pretty much everything you need to know to gain a deeper insight into reading literature. I have read further than this book, such as I.A. Richard's Principles of Literary Criticism and Jonathan Culler's works on literary theory and literary criticism but Lodge's more modest work still has pride of place on my bookshelf next to these other giants.
So many critics seem to know the way but are unable to drive.
With Lodge this is not a problem as he is both a critically acclaimed author and a respected academic. As a result he is able to offer an insight into literature from within and without. The only criticism I have, and it is a very small one, is that he only comments on English and American literature because he specialises in these fields of literature. Something he admits to in the introduction. But this is largely unimportant considering the wealth of English and American literature.
Whether you are a student of literature, an aspiring writer, or simply someone who wishes to better understand what you read then this is a book to start with as it is refreshingly free of pretentiousness.
on 21 July 2002
This is one of the best introductions to understanding fiction - particularly the novel - that I've read. It's particularly suitable for someone without any background in the arts. It's divided into 50 short chapters, each beginning with a short extract that provides the basis for discussion for what follows. It covers topics such as division into chapters, symbolism, voice, and just about everything you ever needed to know. It is clearly written without any of the pretension and unnecessary difficulty that often dogs the area. Highly recommended.
on 23 July 2011
The collection of articles in David Lodge's book, The Art of Fiction, first appeared in The Independent on Sunday and The Washington Post. I don't read either of these newspapers so I was not aware of these wonderful gems until I stumbled on the book. In the completive world of publishing there are many popular books available about literary appreciation but amongst the few that I have read this is perhaps the best of them.
Not unique by any means, what Lodge does is to take a broad rage of literary excerpts and analyse them using a number of literary concepts, some well known and others not, in order to reveal how the art of fiction works. The excerpts range from the eighteenth century right up to the late twentieth century. The concepts or ideas Lodge uses are as simple as beginning, and the intrusive author right through to the more academic such as defamiliarization and intertextuality.
Many books of this type that purports to enlighten the reader about how something works or how to appreciate the novel, poetry or for that matter films have a tendency to fail. They get bog down with detail and soon become obtuse and opaque. So in reading Lodge's book does one get a sense of what the art of fiction is about? The short answer is yes. What Lodge does very well is to show how the writer, whether intentional or not, uses certain rhetorical devices to gain certain effect or achieve his or her aim. For example, the opening section of the book clearly shows how Jane Austen and Ford Madox Ford engage the reader by their first sentences and opening paragraphs.
Do not be misguided by the articles' length into thinking that they lack dept of analysis. This is not the case, on the contrary, Lodge carefully places the literary concepts in context, and the novels he uses to illustrate his points are quite broad in range. So for example, in discussing magic realism, Lodge focuses on Milan Kundera's The Book of Laughter and Forgetting but at the same time we learn of a broad range of writers who has used this technique, such as Gunter Grass, Salman Rushdie, Fay Weldon, Angela Carter and Jeanette Winterson. Surely, plenty of writers to chose from if one wanted to sample magic realism.
The fact that most of these pieces were written for a newspaper, does not diminish their quality and standing as literary criticism. Mr Lodge is concise but scholarly and informative. Take for example, the section on defamiliarization, after an excerpt from Charlotte Bronte's Villette the reader is plunged into the profound literary theory of the Russian formalist in the shape of Victor Shklovsky. Placing the discussion of Villette in this context was fascinating and very educative.
The reader is kept well informed and to some extent entertained by little snippets of information along the way. I now know that Marcel Proust's favourite novel was Thomas Hardy's A Pair of Blue Eyes. Lodge does not shy away from briefly introducing the reader to some of the big names of literary theory such as Mikhail Bakhtin and Roland Barthes. And at the end of some of the sections, despite their brevity, Lodge nevertheless reveals enough to wet one's appetite for reading some of the novels one has not read.
I admired this book and I know that from time to time I will return to it as a means of reference. It is well worth reading right through and then keeping as a kind of brief literary concept reference book.
on 24 September 2006
This must surely be one of the most astute crossover books ever: originally conceived as a series of newspaper articles, these fifty chapters make the sometimes forbidding and austere discipline of literary criticism accessible to the general reader.
David Lodge is no stranger to negotiating such crossovers: his comic novels have reached a wide readership while fitting perfectly into the tradition of the English comic novel, about which Lodge, for many years a professor of modern literature, knows more than most people. In "The Art of Fiction", he draws on a wider range of examples than in his other, more academically slanted, works of literary criticism. Each of the fifty chapters begins with an extract [occasionally more than one] from novels, or, occasionally, short stories. The majority of his choices are from twentieth-century British fiction [Kingsley Amis, Virginia Woolf, Muriel Spark, Evelyn Waugh...], but there are also incursions into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and into American and Irish literature. The extracts serve as introductions to aspects of fiction as varied as: symbolism, allegory, time-shift, motivation, irony, and the author is always at pains to link his extract to other literary works.
The overall result is both modest and magisterial. As David Lodge points out in his introduction, "this is a book for people who prefer to take their Lit.Crit. in small doses, a book to browse in, and dip into". His approach works brilliantly: this book is an invaluable source of inspiration. Most important of all, it doesn't matter if you haven't read the novels from which Lodge has chosen his illustrations; the whole point is that in many cases you almost certainly will want to read them soon.
A modern classic in a category all of its own.
on 14 December 2007
Terms are bandied around for different forms of novel writing, and you dismiss them as 'jargon', or perhaps 'gobbledegook', and move on. It's only when you've actually written a novel that doesn't fit the standard genre - historical, fantasy, adventure, thriller, etc - that you wish you'd paid more attention. If you've completed writing such a book without having recourse to the Art of Fiction, you'll need it at this point, otherwise you might be excused for thinking you've ploughed a completely new literary furrow. So, before you start preparing your witty acceptance speech on winning the Booker, do read David Lodge and you'll learn that someone famous has been there before you and that, in some cases, they have been lauded and slated by the critics in equal proportions.
You'll learn about Magic Realism, Stream of Consciousness, The Reader in the Text, Teenage Skaz etc etc. There's much in the Art of Fiction for the more orthodox writer, too. His essays are beautifully written, very clear and he uses well-known illustrative texts. I can thoroughly recommend this one for the discerning writer and reader.
David Lodge writes in a low key amusing style which makes these essays on fiction entertaining reading. The book contains fifty essays which examine all aspects of fiction including magic realism, point of view, chapters, surrealism, irony and the weather. His thoughts are illustrated with quotations from all types of fiction from the eighteenth to the twenty first century. He also shows how he has used various techniques in his own novels.
Reading this book helps the reader to understand how authors achieve their effects and increases future enjoyment when reading novels. Some of the novels quoted may be new to many readers and will provide new avenues to explore. If you thought literary criticism and analysis would make for dull reading then give this book a try - it could change your mind.
on 26 June 2015
David Lodge covers 50 writing topics in 50 chapters. Each chapter can be read by itself without reference to the other chapters, which I found made it readable and digestible. One of this book's best features is the wide range of writing that goes back to Laurence Sterne and Henry Fielding who both wrote in the Eighteenth Century to more modern writers including himself. I thoroughly enjoyed his selection which covered a vast range of styles and topics. I also found most of his comments interesting and helpful.
The main message seemed to be that the only absolute rule about good creative writing is that there are no rules. And if there are any rules, it's acceptable for established writers to break them. For example, very long sentences and multiple repetitions are discouraged in young writers, but fine for people who know what they're doing.
Occasionally I disagreed with his conclusions, Once or twice he appeared to read more into the text that the author might have intended - particularly with regard to the extract from Ernest Hemingway (he might of course be right but he came across as being slightly too adulatory to the great man).
Apart from that minor criticism, I really liked The Art of Fiction (which was recommended to me by my Open University tutor). It gave plenty of new literary insights and explained some literary devices with which I was not previously familiar. On the whole, this book is a useful resource for students of English Literature and Creative Writing.
on 20 May 2009
This book originated in the early 1990's when David Lodge was invited by the Independent on Sunday to contribute a series of weekly articles in which he chose a literary topic (such as Beginnings, Mystery, A Sense of Place, Allegory or Endings) and illustrated this with one or two short extracts from relatively well-known novels.
The constraint of a short weekly newspaper column has demanded that Lodge restricts his comments and analysis to the most significant elements of the passages that he has chosen.
As Lodge is not only a highly successful novelist in his own right, but also was a lecturer and professor in English Literature at Birmingham University for almost 30 years, you will be hard pressed to find a more knowledgeable, entertaining or lucid guide to accompany you through some of the landmark works of English fiction, regardless of whether you are an aspiring writer or simply wish to understand how literature works.