Of his three literary critical books so far, this is my favourite of a lucid, striking critic, one brave enough to work, Bob Hughes like, outside the academy (if in practice part-time in it, he is certainly not OF it any more than Christopher Hitchens when Associate Prof. at the New School), which is important. It seems he has made a name for being sharp; well he is exacting but also an exciting and interesting writer, like Frank Kermode in making you feel like reading what he writes about and better informed generally. This is a talent that is hard to overestimate (or as too many say and write, "underestimate"). His appraisal of Virginia Woolf is generous to an oft patronised novelist and his insights are surprising and made in an imagistic, writerly style reminiscent of an understated Tynan (if such is imaginable); it is a relief to read a critic who writes as well as a novelist. His ambition is epitomised in the title essay, a bold assessment of the break opening between Art and Belief as the emblematic figures of Renan and Matthew Arnold strained to withstand the shattering consequences of David Strauss and others who made Christianity in its traditional form untenable. This is a fascinating book; was it an accident that the LRB had Wood and Frank Kermode writing for them at the same time? (Doubt it). It is a compliment to the former to say that they belonged together. This is jargon-free, bold, clever; in fact I'd say every literate person should read it.
on 24 March 1999
This really is an astonishing book. Wood is not popular with the Eng. lit. establishment, but that's because he is's not chicken when it comes to telling the truth. He exposes bad work and beautifully lights up great work -- like Chekhov and Woolf. I've enjoyed his essays and reviews in the Guardian and the London Review of Books for several years, and I'm not at all disappointed by the talent on display in this book. This guy really can write!