April 7, 2005
Wheels within wheels
Our Girl in Chicago has a question:
There are a lot of novels about writers. There aren't so many novels about writers in which the (real) novelist attempts to recreate his character's work. I can think of two off the top of my head, but both of them are somewhat anomalous: Nabokov's Pale Fire, of course, and A. S. Byatt's Possession (both featuring poetry, interestingly). Neither of these is, strictly speaking, about the writers whose work appears, however. There must be more out there. What am I forgetting--what, that is, that's good or at least well-known?
There are a lot of these, though my memory isn't behaving much better than Our Girl's at the moment, and it's not feeding me much. One title I can think of, and that I particularly like because of how well it builds the writer's work into the work about the writer, is Francine Prose's Blue Angel, which tells the story of a creative writing teacher with writer's block who is brought to his knees--literally, figuratively--by the prose of a twitchy, bitchy, skinny, creepy writing student. Here's an excerpt.
What else is there?
World According to Garp, as I recall, has lengthy sections of a book-within-a-book.
And not sure if this really counts - but the "secret book" in 1984 could also be an example of this.
James Wood's recent novel "The Book Against God" features a disaffected graduate student in London. Instead of writing his diss., he is writing a philosophical pamphlet called "The Book Against God," which is intended to express at prodigious length the principles of his atheism. Meanwhile, his girlfriend dumps him, his father dies, everything falls apart.
The "BAG" ends up being something quite different from what he'd intented; Wood includes a few pages of the book towards the end of the novel.
The book got mixed reviews when it came out a couple of years ago. But I would recommend it, especially for a) disaffected grad students, and b) people who have struggled with (or are struggling with) religious convictions.
Lessing. =Golden Notebook=
The World According to Garp by John Irving, and The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood.
Pale Fire by Nabokov
If I recollect correctly, Stephen King re-creates the book being written by the fictional writer in Misery.
Pasternak, himself a very great poet, wrote the poems attributed to the title character.
Nabokov again, The Gift (Chapter 4, biog of NGChernyshevsky; Ada Part 4 might qualify but The Texture of Time is interwoven)
John Barth, The Sot-weed Factor (doggerel)
Penelope Fitzgerald, The Blue Flower (it's a short-short, but central)
arguably, Flann O'Brien, At Swim-Two-Birds (but not Trellis, just Sweeney and Casey, and they're reciting not writing)
coming up short (but lest we forget): Max Beerbohm, Enoch Soames
I believe that sections of Flann O'Brien "At Swim Two Birds" were written by characters in other sections. Characters in one book also develop personal relationships with their own authors. Or something like that.