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by Samuel Richardson
If a first novel fails to become a blockbuster, as almost all of them do, publishers are less inclined to get behind the follow-up by a writer who has gained a dubious track record but has lost that most precious of all literary selling points: novelty. Writers get only one shot at becoming The Next Big Thing.
I don’t think anyone has ever been haunted by Tom Jones. Delighted, for sure, but not haunted. Does that mean that Samuel Richardson and his aesthetic heirs wrote better books? I’m surprised to find that I’m not sure anymore.
Shandy makes the Cervantes/Fielding/Dickens picaresque look like a straight walk down a well-lit road. It is both a challenge to read and a sustained work of jumpy, distracted hilarity. Attention deficit, for Sterne, is not something to be feared in the reader — it is the basis for his process of composition.
The current PBS Masterpiece series mashes the "class" buttons hard, in both the literary and the economic senses. But its relationship with the English novel is more complicated than it might appear.
The Pregnant Widow has a simple premise really: a love triangle powered by youthful lust and a suitably exotic locale. Then again, maybe not so simple.
What seems key about the novel is that what we think of as a historical evolution—or a descent from a unified to a fragmented perspective—isn’t an evolution at all. In fact, the novel has always been insecure. It’s just that the manifestation of its insecurity has changed over time.
Clarissa's difficulty lies almost exclusively in its length. Tristram Shandy is a post-modern classic before there was any modernism to be post- about. In Moby Dick, a mix of novelistic narration and plot, reverie and essay, quasi-scientific treatise, monologues and dialogues, technical descriptions, a miscellany of quotations.
The story of hapless CIA functionary Ray Finch's midlife unraveling in Botswana is uproarious and deadly serious, ruminative and suspenseful, psychological and philosophical. Think Graham Greene as written by Saul Bellow. Or Thomas Mann as written by Jonathan Franzen.