Dare we suggest that Coetzee is actually a better critical essayist than a novelist? This trenchant, rewarding volume...

INNER WORKINGS

LITERARY ESSAYS, 2000-2005

Issues of political and moral choice and commitment and of literary theory and practice are considered in the South African Nobel laureate’s fourth collection of criticism.

Gathered here are 16 book reviews, four summary “introductions” to new translations or editions of major writers’ works and a single celebration of a “classic” film (“Arthur Miller, The Misfits”), which appeared in the anthology Writers at the Movies. Coetzee’s great strength is his sure sense of form—notably displayed in a meticulous deconstruction of Philip Roth’s “dystopian” alternate-history novel The Plot Against America and a stringent explication of enfolded levels of irony and self-deception in Coetzee’s countrywoman Nadine Gordimer’s subtle political novel The Pickup. He also does his homework, assiduously. A wealth of painstakingly absorbed historical and biographical information enriches his dissections of scholar-critic Walter Benjamin’s “the Arcades Project” (an encyclopedic analysis of Parisian social life “under capitalism”); Günter Grass’s challenging historical novel Crabwalk (based on a maritime disaster which has spawned numerous conflicting treatments of its details and significance); and the recently rediscovered fiction of 20th-century Hungarian author Sándor Márai, both a bold critic of fascism and a haughty apologist for an embattled aristocracy. Elsewhere, Coetzee pays due (if predictable) tribute to consensus European masters (Robert Musil, Paul Celan, Italo Svevo) and their less celebrated peers (Bruno Schulz, Joseph Roth, Hugo Claus), fellow Nobelists (Faulkner, Bellow, Naipaul), the underrated (Swiss miniaturist Robert Walser) and the unclassifiable (eclectic memoirist W.G. Sebald). Even middling essays on Whitman, Beckett and Graham Greene are redeemed by startlingly precise insights (e.g., that Greene’s “entertainment” Brighton Rock is energized by distinctions drawn between Good and Evil and Right and Wrong).

Dare we suggest that Coetzee is actually a better critical essayist than a novelist? This trenchant, rewarding volume suggests it just may be so.

Pub Date: July 23, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-670-03865-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2007

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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