From Publishers Weekly
Born on the Isle of Man and linked over the years with Cambridge, Harvard and Columbia Universities, Kermode belongs to the superleague of internationally famous old-school literary critics that also includes Harold Bloom, Geoffrey Hartman and Christopher Ricks; his best-known works in America include The Sense of an Ending, Shakespeare's Language and an autobiography, Not Entitled. This hefty and very worthwhile collection samples his interests from opera to modern dance, from the New Testament to the English novelist Ian McEwan. It includes chapters from Kermode's most famous books, freestanding academic pieces and lectures, essay-reviews from the London Review of Books, and four substantial unpublished essays, including a provocative exploration of literary and cognitive "forgetting." Kermode's recurring subjects include Shakespeare, Wallace Stevens, Joseph Conrad, modern fiction and narrative generally, and the nature of interpretation. If his most theoretical work seems very much of its time (the 1970s and '80s), the work on novels, poems and plays stands up quite well, exhibiting Kermode's blend of sophisticated reading and consistently accessible writing. "Shakespeare and Boito" (a new piece) compares the original Othello to the one in Verdi's opera; "The Man in the Macintosh" (1979) asks Joyceans, and New Testament readers, "why do we prefer enigmas to muddles?" Kermode can simply observe, or ask questions, rather than advancing extended arguments, a way of reading that proves as instructive as it is satisfying.
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Distinguished British critic Kermode celebrates his often-misunderstood calling in his preface to this substantial collection of critical essays culled from four decades of work, writing that "the business of explanation--of elucidation and comparisons--has to go on as long as art goes on." And criticism, Kermode remarks, can and should be as pleasurable as it is useful, although his idea of pleasure is of a rigorous nature. Kermode parses complicated, even esoteric aspects of story and text, metaphysics and poetry, and the link between social change and the evolution of the novel, yet he is unfailingly clear and cheerfully engaging, classy, and stimulating. His long essays chart fresh discoveries in the work of Wallace Stevens and retrieve a remarkable yet forgotten American dancer, Loie Fuller, and a neglected writer, Christopher Burney, a British agent captured in occupied France who wrote behind bars. Then there are brilliant reflections on Conrad, brain-twisting considerations of our notions of time and how they have influenced literature, and short takes on living writers, all criticism at its finest. Donna SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved