Latest Issue

More theory, please

James Wood's study of the workings of fiction displays an uncannily well-tuned ear. But for all his undoubted skills as a critic, he lacks the theoretical armoury to take on a subject as general as this

By Terry Eagleton   March 2008

How Fiction Works, by James Wood

(Jonathan Cape, £16.99)

Few people are as deft at dissecting a novel as James Wood, staff writer on the New Yorker and professor of literary criticism at Harvard. At one point in this elegant little book, Wood subjects what he calls a “really dirty” sentence from Philip Roth to two pages of tenacious analysis, tracking its baroque flourishes and mock-pedantic syntax with admirable self-assurance. There is also a marvellous footnote on Thomas Pynchon’s “vaudevillian” fondness for “silly names, japes, mishaps, disguises, farcical errors.” Wood combines an almost boyish enthusiasm for fiction—he is forever exclaiming…

Register today to continue reading

You’ve hit your limit of three articles in the last 30 days. To get seven more, simply enter your email address below.

You’ll also receive our free e-book Prospect’s Top Thinkers 2020 and our newsletter with the best new writing on politics, economics, literature and the arts.

Prospect may process your personal information for our legitimate business purposes, to provide you with newsletters, subscription offers and other relevant information.

Click here to learn more about these purposes and how we use your data. You will be able to opt-out of further contact on the next page and in all our communications.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to

More From Prospect