A worthwhile read simply for experiencing Wood’s enthusiasm for literature. However, this short book is less a “how-to-write” manual than it is an ode to literary realism.
The examples Wood provides are analysed in a manner, which (for a change) leaves me hopeful that one day my writing could amount to something, where other books on writing by literary critics tend to leave me feeling battered by my foolish dream to be A Writer. Wood’s delight in his favourites inspires and encourages one to read and write better.
Wood didn’t quite maintain his desire to write for the “commoner” without the “true scholastic stink” of an elistist literary critic: although his examples and analysis of these great writers are by far the most approachable I’ve read, the ease with which he drops quotes from Homer, Chekov, McEwan, Wordsworth, even Shakespeare, by their very nature must be alienating for the “common reader.”
However, I couldn’t help but wonder if HOW FICTION WORKS wasn’t Wood’s subtle protest against the rise of the “thousands of foolish reader reviews on Amazon.com”[Pg 80]. Is this a literary critic’s version of marking his territory? Certainly, many readers who write reviews for Amazon (or any other reader website) don’t have either Wood’s vast knowledge of classical literature or his extensive critic’s language, but does that render their opinion worth any less than his or any other literary critics? At times I felt this book was not for the common reader as Wood’s opening preface claimed, but a rather aggrieved response, a sort of intelligent and erudite “so there!” to the reader reviewers encroaching on the hallowed ground of professional literary criticism.
Despite this, I do agree with his point that there is a current rise in “moralising niceness,” that the demand by reader reviewers for “likeable characters” tends to dismiss the tragic nature of some of the greatest literary characters, whose nuanced human flaws are not idealised into black-and-white simplicity. Perhaps I only sympathise on this point with Wood, because the characters in my own novel “Dancing in the Shadows of Love” have been criticised as “unlikeable!”
HOW FICTION WORKS provides accessible insights into some great literary examples, and the section on “A Brief History of Consciousness” was simply superb.