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Faulks on Fiction by Sebastian Faulks

Faulks on Fiction (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Sebastian Faulks

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1295134,765 (3.5)4
Title:Faulks on Fiction
Authors:Sebastian Faulks
Info:BBC Books (2011), Paperback, 384 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:non-fiction, books

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Faulks on Fiction by Sebastian Faulks (2011)



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This book was published as a companion piece to a BBC television series which I’ve not seen. In it, Faulks considers twenty-eight characters from literature, and comments on them. The characters are split into “types”: heroes, lovers, snobs and villains. And within each group, he considers a well-known character from a famous novel. Some of the choices are obvious: Sherlock Holmes as a hero, Constance Chatterley as a lover, Fagin as a villain. Some are a bit odd: James Bond as a snob (although given the use of brand-names in the books, it does sort of make sense), Winston Smith as a hero… And I wouldn’t have chosen Ronald Merrick as a villain to represent the Raj Quartet – Barbie Bachelor is a much more interesting character; nor do I necessarily agree with the conclusions Faulks draws about the four books and Merrick’s role in them. But then the Raj Quartet is one of the few works covered in Faulks on Fiction which Faulks read for the first time for the television series. Many of the others he had read as a schoolboy or a student, and he writes as much about how his view of the book has changed with this new read as he does in analysis of the character under discussion. Of the twenty-eight novels covered, I’ve read only nine (but I’ve seen film/tv adaptions of a further seven), which at least gives me a position to compare Faulks’s thoughts with my own. He raises points I’d not considered in many cases and there’s very little I’d disagree with on those characters with which I’m familiar. Admittedly, I seem to hold both DH Lawrence and Paul Scott in higher regard than Faulks does – though, to be fair, I don’t prize Lawrence for his characterisation, and that’s pretty much the focus of the essays in Faulks on Fiction. An interesting read. ( )
  iansales | Aug 9, 2016 |
Faulks on fiction is a rather difficult, and overall rather dis-satisfactory book. It is a companion volume with a television series about great novels, which was presented by Sebastian Faulks. However, it is not made clear how the book should be read. Does the book repeat and expand on ideas presented in the TV series? Are readers supposed to have read the novels? How much did the TV series tell about the novels? Without answers to these questions, reading the book is rather difficult.

Faulks on fiction can hardly be read on its own. The author moves much too fast, and seems to expect that readers of the book are entirely familiar with each novel. In his explanations, Faulks gives away the plot, so the book is supposedly not for readers new to these novels.

Few readers will feel comfortable with Faulks on this excursion through English literature. Faulks repeatedly states that he has read each of the novels multiple times, referring to readings in his youth, his student days, or subsequently. It is obvious that Faulks must have re-read each book in preparation for the TV series and the writing of this book. His complete familiarity with the characters of the novels contrasts sharply with that of the readers.

Faulks does not explain much. He recapitulates, but expects his readers to be grosso modo familiar with the plot and characters of the novels. Whether this is justified, for example because such things were explained in the TV series, remains unclear. The themes and motives Faulks picks up to contemplate do not seem to be chosen with the reader in mind. The overall impression is that Faulks takes the reader where Faulks wants to go. This would be quite acceptable if the book is seen as a collection of essays, but not if the function of the book is to introduce readers to literature.

Faulks disregard for the reader is even stronger in the chapters about contemporary authors. Obviously, Faulks personally knows many of the contemporary, living authors, and this familiarity leads to a strong feeling of in-crowd. He also frequently refers to his own work.

Faulks on fiction deals with a dazzling number of authors, novels and characters. The staccato structure of the book, four parts, each part preceded by an introduction, each essay of a similar structure for 28 characters. And since the organization is thematic, the book bounces through the centuries like a pinball. The effect is that the book is boring, and very difficult to read. ( )
  edwinbcn | Dec 11, 2013 |
The book comprises short essays on fictional characters. Faulks has categorised them as heroes, snobs, villians, etc. Characters include Darcy, Emma, Sherlock, Ronald Merrick (Raj Quartet), Jeeves, Becky Sharp. You may not agree with all of Faulks' conclusions about these characters but they will make you think.
  Winterwood | Jan 24, 2012 |
Even though I have only read one novel by Sebastian Faulks - the overrated and cliche-ridden Birdsong - I did enjoy watching Faulks on Fiction, the television doumentary on British novels and characters that he presented for the BBC a while back. Not only did he feature some of my favourite novels, including two by Jane Austen and Thackeray's Vanity Fair, but I was also influenced to read two new and very different titles - The End of the Affair by Graham Greene and Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. I didn't enjoy either, but I have Sebastian Faulks' enthusiastic discussion of both to thank for prompting me to look Greene and Hardy up in the first place!

The book of the series is less encouraging, in that Faulks presents more negative than positive aspects of his chosen stories, and also completely gives away the plots, or the most dramatic events, of each. For the novels I have read, however, I thoroughly enjoyed and agreed with Faulks' interpretation. Primarily, his essay on Austen's Emma is a thoughtful, positive, emotional and utterly personal defence and recommendation of what he calls a 'close to perfect' novel and the lively, intelligent heroine at its heart. (He is a bit rough on poor Knightley, but then, he also calls Mr Darcy a depressive, so his judgement seems fair!) I think I shall photocopy the chapter on Emma from the 'Snobs' section, and quote liberally in response to future reviews which slate the wealthy Miss Woodhouse for looking down her nose at Robert Martin. Social status does matter, as Faulks points out, and Emma also has many generous characteristics to balance her youthful, narrow view of society. Then there is the building romantic tension between Emma and 'crusty' Mr Knightley - Faulks' insight into both heroine and hero made my heart flutter on occasion. 'Emma is a cleverer and more interesting person than Knightley, with access to a dynamic range of thought and feeling beyond his scope,' the lovestruck lecturer gushes at one point; 'when she is his age, she will be as wise as he is, but more engaged with life.' Knightley will need to 'catch her when she has just grown into him, but before she grows out of him'. Faulks also describes Knightley's honest and spontaneous declaration of love as 'the most moving scene that Jane Austen ever wrote, and it is Mr Knightley's humble recognition of his own failings as well as of Emma's life-giving qualities that make it so'. For that contribution, and that alone, Sebastian Faulks won me over.

The rest of the character studies were hit and miss for me (probably because I have only read one each of the chosen 'heroes' and 'villains' novels , four out of seven of the 'lovers', and three of the selected 'snobs'). I share the same fears for Lizzie's future with Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, can read Wuthering Heights for what it is, not what people think it is, and admire Becky Sharp of Vanity Fair without necessarily liking her. I once had a massive literary crush on the slightly sinister 'gentleman's gentleman' Jeeves, and I still think that Pip's display of snobbery in Great Expectations is far more painful to read that Emma Woodhouse forgetting herself for a moment on Box Hill. But as for the rest? Faulks has probably dissuaded me from ever opening the cover of Lady Chatterley's Lover, Clarissa, or The Raj Quartet, and once is enough for The Woman in White, too.

The accompanying book to Sebastian Faulks' entertaining documentary is subjective, yet intelligent and accurate (apart from when he is plugging his own sequel to Fleming's James Bond novels). I am of the same mind about reading too much of the author into works of fiction, and also object to being told which character I am supposed to like or hate. Faulks made me laugh when describing the 'strange snorting noises' he found himself making at the end of David Copperfield, and his childish reading of Dr Watson's frequent 'ejaculations' in Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes elicited a snort or two of my own (oh, come on, admit it). But reader beware - don't come late to Faulks' one-man book club if you haven't done your homework. He is reviewing, not recommending, the titles on the list. ( )
2 vote AdonisGuilfoyle | Oct 16, 2011 |
A literary companion to the BBC series of the same name it contains a series of essays about particular characters from literature. The book is devided into four major sections: heroes, Lovers, Snobs and Villians. A variety of characters from a wide spectrum of English literature are examined under each heading. Faulks places each character in an historical context and examines why that character "works" so well

Faulks himself writes so beautifully that this is a pleasure to read. The pleasure is further enhanced by some quite penetrating observations both as to charcter and the writer's technique. I will definitely have to re-read Emma; some Graham Greene and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (at least). ( )
  BlinkingSam | Jul 18, 2011 |
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The British invented the novel, with the publication of Robinson Crusoe in 1719 marking the arrival of a new and revolutionary form of art. But it's equally true, as Sebastian Faulks makes clear in this remarkable book, that the novel invented the British: for the first time there was a form of art that reflected the experiences of ordinary people and provided characters that served as true cultural touchstones. Accompanying a major BBC series, Faulks on Fiction is a compelling and personal take on the story of how the dazzling creations of novelists helped shape the world we live in.… (more)

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