The Half-Known World: On Writing Fiction

Robert Boswell, Author
Robert Boswell, Author , Graywolf $15 (189p) ISBN 978-1-55597-504-3
Reviewed on: 06/23/2008
Release date: 07/01/2008

In clear, charming prose, novelist Bos-well delivers a satisfying exploration of the craft of writing fiction, drawing from an array of well-chosen examples. In one instance he offers a full-bodied analysis of Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich to illustrate his argument about the use of social paradigm in fiction; in a chapter on politics in the novel, he helpfully streamlines a Noam Chomsky essay into an explanatory list of the political responsibilities of the intellectual. Boswell’s defense of his concept of the “half-known world”—the idea that there must be “a dimension to the fictional reality that escapes comprehension”—is spiritedly articulated and defended, and the book feels written for the serious writing student rather than the beginner. However, while addressing a sophisticated audience, he is direct—a chapter on omniscient narrators answers tough narrative questions in an easy-to-follow manner. Throughout, Boswell presents autobiographical moments and brief vignettes of his own devising to illustrate his concepts, reinforcing the fact that, like his great predecessor in craft writing John Gardner, he is a working fiction writer who knows his material. (Aug.)

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