Josipovici’s Insight

Although I have read Barnes and McEwan fairly extensively, I find myself agreeing with Josipovici’s argument:

Reading Barnes, like reading so many other English writers of his generation – Martin Amis, McEwan – leaves me feeling that I and the world have been made smaller and meaner. The irony which at first made one smile, the precision of language which was at first so satisfying, the cynicism which at first was used only to puncture pretension, in the end come to seem like a terrible constriction, a fear of opening oneself up to the world.

The insight of that analysis is precise and powerful.

Josipovici also summarised my own recent response to Sarah Hall’s How to Paint a Dead Man:

While great novels deal with complex events beyond the full understanding of both the characters and the reader, too many contemporary works follow traditional plots with neat endings, he said.


Referring to graduates, like McEwan, of the University of East Anglia’s famous creative writing course, Josipovici said: “They all tell stories in a way that is well crafted, but that is almost the most depressing aspect of it — a careful craft which seems to me to be hollow.”

Its all a tad depressing having two favourite authors lowered from their pedestals, but Josipovici describes the process of disillusion with considerable insight. The criticism is timely. I have been pondering what serious novel I can read with any conviction after reading Ulysses. Joyce’s book makes so much that I planned to read paler by reflection.

I am looking forward to reading Josipovici’s forthcoming What Ever Happened to Modernism?

How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall

There is much to admire in Sarah Hall’s How to Paint a Dead Man: her elegant style and exceptional use of metaphor, her contemplative and complicated narrative that weaves together four related stories and her ability to construct memorable characters. I enjoyed, in particular, the renowned Italian painter at the end of his life, contemplating significant events whilst being harried by his over-solicitous house-keeper.

Why, in the end though, did this story leave me cold? The drawing to a conclusion of the four narrative threads felt orchestrated and forced. The fate of Annette, the blind girl who doesn’t know how beautiful she is, was obvious from the start and unsatisfying. The characters, though memorable, were straight out of central casting.

Hall writes beautifully, with a painterly touch of building up her character, scene and plot layer by layer, slowly. This story has a sense though of painting by numbers.