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The Novel: A Biography by Michael Schmidt
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The Novel: A Biography

by Michael Schmidt

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Should I confess to being underwhelmed by Schmidt's well-praised volume? It is an admirable achievement but one that left me cold. In surveying the novel from its early proto-novel stages to the present day, he encompasses a wide variety of readers, but I'm uncertain about target audience or purpose. Especially in the first half, chapters offer potted biographies of noted (and sometimes forgotten) authors, along with anecdotes and ruminations on their books. But it feels like each chapter is a handful of Guardian thinkpieces mashed together in book form, without any broader structure. The title is misleading, perhaps that's the problem: this is not a biography of the novel, but rather a tour of people who've written novels. Those are two very different things.

I have a university degree in this stuff, and write about books myself, so I felt I was too educated to gain much from Schmidt's writing. Although the latter half of the book was more engaging to me, his thoughts seemed more personal than academic, more introductory than investigative. At the other end of the spectrum, though, Schmidt is prone to referencing other authors, plots, or characters out of context, and it is clear that he is writing for a learned audience. So I would not recommend this book to the young student wanting to discover how the novel has evolved. This leads me to think the best place for this volume is the university library, where individual chapters can be read by those interested in specific subject matters. I echo some of the smart reviews already on Goodreads that this book is evidently brilliant, but it would make a lot more sense if we were in Schmidt's head. He often writes comments that he sees as self-evident, but which need a bit of convincing for the lay reader.

Also, a pet peeve which may have biased me against this book: Schmidt has chosen not to cite his references. I accept that I am an extremist, a lover of indices and footnotes. But even if he didn't want to have cumbersome annotations everywhere, he could have gone with the pop-academic form of endnotes that reference back to the page numbers even though there is no corresponding number on the main page. Simply put, when every chapter contains numerous anecdotes and much gossip about the authors and the books, it's even more vital that we know where this came from. We can look up obvious book quotes ourselves if we must, but critical comments (reporting when a modern author said something about an older author, for instance) and salacious biography need to be cited. I say this not as a stickler (although I am) but because anyone keen enough to read through a 1,200 page book on novelists as diverse as Fanny Burney and Martin Amis is giong to need to track down many of the quotes and passing comments. Please!
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  therebelprince | Oct 30, 2018 |
I feel like I'm kind of cheating by marking this as "read." The Novel is more of a reference source (a wonderfully fascinating one!) than a book you read in one sitting. I've made my way through a lot of it, but there's still much to take in and it's always handy to have nearby. I hope to buy it in hard copy form when the price goes down. Kindle is great, but The Novel is something you want to be able to flip through in print after consulting the index for topics that particularly interest you. ( )
  booksandcats4ever | Jul 30, 2018 |
This book is huge and something you'll want to take your time reading. I'd definitely put it in the "buy it" category. ( )
  JennysBookBag.com | Sep 28, 2016 |
Seven Hundred years of novel writing, novels upon novels pouring into my brain - help! Made me want to never see a novel again. Emphasis is on the academic greats - the staples of English Lit classes. I majored in that crazy altruistic subject in the lonago ages when students could afford to learn about our civilization, not just how to earna living. So I knew most of the authors already, which kept me plodding along. Glad it's done, can't really recommend it, but I guess I'm glad the book exists. ( )
  ChrisNewton | Mar 18, 2016 |
didn't really read cover to cover, very dense and long
  ritaer | Feb 1, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0674724739, Hardcover)

The 700-year history of the novel in English defies straightforward telling. Geographically and culturally boundless, with contributions from Great Britain, Ireland, America, Canada, Australia, India, the Caribbean, and Southern Africa; influenced by great novelists working in other languages; and encompassing a range of genres, the story of the novel in English unfolds like a richly varied landscape that invites exploration rather than a linear journey. In The Novel: A Biography, Michael Schmidt does full justice to its complexity.

Like his hero Ford Madox Ford in The March of Literature, Schmidt chooses as his traveling companions not critics or theorists but "artist practitioners," men and women who feel "hot love" for the books they admire, and fulminate against those they dislike. It is their insights Schmidt cares about. Quoting from the letters, diaries, reviews, and essays of novelists and drawing on their biographies, Schmidt invites us into the creative dialogues between authors and between books, and suggests how these dialogues have shaped the development of the novel in English.

Schmidt believes there is something fundamentally subversive about art: he portrays the novel as a liberalizing force and a revolutionary stimulus. But whatever purpose the novel serves in a given era, a work endures not because of its subject, themes, political stance, or social aims but because of its language, its sheer invention, and its resistance to cliché--some irreducible quality that keeps readers coming back to its pages.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:38 -0400)

With contributions from Great Britain, Ireland, America, Canada, Australia, India, and Southern Africa; influenced by great novelists working in other languages; and encompassing a range of genres, the story of the novel in English unfolds like a richly varied landscape that invites exploration rather than a linear journey.… (more)

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