THE TALE BEARERS: Essays on English, American and Other Writers by V. S. Pritchett
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THE TALE BEARERS: Essays on English, American and Other Writers

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Not the best Pritchett, perhaps owing to the fact that the books he's reviewing here--biographies and anthologies mostly, ancillary to the direct texts of the writer in question--give him little essentially new to chew over; but Pritchett's phenomenal grace as an equable reader and stylist is a deep pleasure even at less than full-open. Strongest here: a long, canny essay on James the careerist (in response to Leon Edel's exemplary biography); a piece reflecting on Graham Greene and his characters (""These people wish to be alone; yet when they are alone, the sad dialogues of nostalgia, conscience and betrayal begin in mind; and presently each character breaks in two: the pursuer and pursued, the watcher and the watched, the hunter and the hunted""); and, curiously enough, observations on Edmund Wilson (""Give him the subject and it fuses with his whole person. . . . The effect is all the stronger because he is not exalted; he is, indeed, phlegmatic, as if his whole idea were a matter of grasp""). Pritchett likes to like books, and when he can't he seems all the more anxious to find something there he can truly admire: Bellow's Herzog and Humboldt's Gift get a dismissal that most writers would mistake for a valentine; if Mary McCarthy's Birds of America doesn't quite wash as a novel, it will do for Pritchett as a travel commentary, a ""Euro-American laboratory."" The 1979 companion volume, The Myth-Makers, on Russians and Europeans, is the more satisfying--yet enough gems of literary intelligence and sympathy are strewn around here to keep all but the most churlish happy.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1980
Publisher: Random House