THE NOVEL by André Brink


Language and Narrative from Cervantes to Calvino
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A collection of warmed-over, postmodern theorizing pieces on the centrality and self-consciousness of language in novels past and present. Echoing a view common to contemporary novelists and literary theorists, Brink (Imaginings of Sand, 1996, etc.), himself a distinguished South African writer and academic, views literature not so much as a historical progression, but, to use E.M. Forster’s figuration, a group of writers in the same room, occasionally looking over each others’ shoulders. His not entirely original spin on this is that literature—even a 500-year-book like Don Quixote—has always been deeply concerned with and informed by language. In other words, all novels are at heart postmodern. Brink’s deconstructionist tendencies, however, are somewhat tempered by existentialist, and even heroic, leanings: “Language is an attempt, as doomed as it is indispensable, to . . . correct silence—even if it is known beforehand that silence is incorrigible.” In the 15 books he examines, including Emma, Middlemarch, The Trial, and One Hundred Years of Solitude, Brink takes to his task with all the callow enthusiasm of a clever undergraduate, larding his argument with all the canonical authorities, hounding the text, heaping high his arguments on shallow foundations. But he rarely conveys his love for the work at hand. His analyses often read more like a clinical diagnosis of an unpleasant disease. Perhaps this is an inevitable result of using a book/text/words to argue for the “final meaninglessness of language.” South African academia tends to be years behind the West, and it shows painfully here. Still, one can only wonder why a respected author would spend time and effort on such a stultifying and ultimately absurd effort.

Pub Date: April 6th, 1998
ISBN: 0-8137-1330-0
Page count: 388pp
Publisher: New York Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1998


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