The Artful Dickens: The Tricks and Ploys of the Great Novelist
Mullan (What Matters in Jane Austen?
) deconstructs Charles Dickens in this incisive essay collection. Astute observations abound in 13 pieces that attempt to “do justice to Dickens’s inventiveness, ingenuity, and experimentalism. The essay “Fantasising” examines the number of times “as if” appears as an idiomatic tic that “unlocks the novelist’s fantastic vision of the sheer strangeness of reality.” “Smelling” describes the grim “whiff” of London sewage and horse dung in Dickens’s work, as well as the odors of his characters. “Changing Tenses” provides a chance to “share the sharpness of childhood memory,” while “Naming” proves that Dickens’s characters got their names from lists of advisers to the royal family. “Speaking” digs into Dickens’s use of dialogue, and “Breaking the Rules” shows that the novelist’s use of repetition was the “simplest and the best of his tricks.” Mullan convincingly suggests that writers including Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan, and Muriel Sparks draw from the best of Dickens’s techniques—in fact, he writes, Dickens anticipated the “narrative experiments” of modern novelists. This superlative, fresh collection will please stalwart fans and bring new readers to the Dickens canon. (May)