21st Century Literature discussion

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2012 Book Discussions > NW - Guest: 87 - 148, No Spoilers Please (December 2012)

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message 1: by Sophia, Honorary Moderator (new)

Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments Mod
It strikes me that if the first part of this book feels Woolfian (fluent and impressionistic) that the story of Felix Cooper does too, but in a different way. The events occur throughout the course of a day as they do in ‘Mrs Dalloway’.

To my mind this is where the best of the writing is to be found. Why do you think Annie is the one privileged character in the book who isn't dead on the page?


message 2: by Daniel (new)

Daniel | 738 comments Mod
I was thinking to myself how incredibly well-written this section was, so it's nice to hear that you consider it the strongest. I'm woefully ignorant of Woolf, but am curious to hear the opinions of people better-read than myself.

I absolutely loved how the last section ended with the telly announcing the main event of this chapter. I read Felix's story with a completely different mindset because of that information, and it was positively brilliant.


message 3: by Sophia, Honorary Moderator (new)

Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments Mod
Felix’s encounters in this section are strong set pieces. And the dialogue is outstanding.

“I work for a company that creates ideas for brand consolidation? So that brands can better target receptivity for their products — cutting-edge brand manipulation, basically." ...
"Like advertising?"


Smith has a great ear – after a gap of seven years since her last book she’s not lost her flair for dialogue. At all.

But I remain cynical about Felix’s fate - had he lived - particularly when he is so readily seduced by his former girlfriend. It all seems too good to be true, when considering his background.

Does this section sit well with the preceding one? I think it connects weakly with it (and the rest of the book) as if it's a separate project, imperfectly incorporated. Did you find the change of style difficult to accommodate?


message 4: by Deborah (new)

Deborah | 983 comments Mod
I agree Daniel. And yet, I still hoped.

Sophia, I'm not even sure if you mean Virginia Wolf or another. Is Wolf worth reading just to be able to get the comparison?

About Felix's fate. You make an interesting point. But I'm not certain if I agree. There was something really hopeful about him. He seems to have a much better capacity for connection than the other characters we've seen so far. He might have been seduced in one way, but he hangs on to his sobriety and the lapse may have been one of sentiment rather than commitment.

This section did feel distant from the proceeding. I liked it better though.I think it works better going the direction it did than if this one had come first (stylistically. Clearly it couldn't have been switched chronologically.)


message 5: by Carl (new)

Carl | 286 comments For me, this was the weakest part of the "novel." I understand how people would like the style, but for me, it is entirely inauthentic, messy, and not well constructed. On the other hand, I love reading Woolf because she handles the style with mastery and with full and authentic characterization. I would have rather re-read Mrs. Dalloway three times than to read this stuff in NW.


message 6: by Sophia, Honorary Moderator (new)

Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments Mod
Deborah wrote: "Sophia, I'm not even sure if you mean Virginia Wolf or another. Is Wolf worth reading just to be able to get the comparison?"

Yes, I do mean Virginia Woolf. I don't think you need to read any of her work, because you are doubtless aware of what is meant by stream-of-consciousness writing and Modernism.

The language here reflects a modernist anxiety about one thing following another, about the ticking of the clock and the way time leads us toward death. Time, of course, is a problem for Leah, who constantly notices how it moves for other people. It is compressed by old age, congealed or stretched by smoking hash; it is “uncanny.” Leah watches a young girl making a daisy chain as though there were some mystery to the whole business of sequence or consequence: “Split a stem with a thumbnail, thread the next daisy through.”

Sentences are short; they fail to add meaning or make connections: “This too will pass. Four forty-five. Zig, zag. Tick. Tock. Sometimes bitterness makes a grab for Leah.” Dialogue starts mid-flow, and is cut off before the speaker is done. The physical world is also unreliable and prone to fragment. A plastic pen splinters in Leah’s mouth, a phone booth has “thick shattered glass, cuboid shards, all around.”


message 7: by Sophia, Honorary Moderator (new)

Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments Mod
Deborah wrote: "About Felix's fate. You make an interesting point. But I'm not certain if I agree. There was something really hopeful about him. He seems to have a much better capacity for connection than the other characters we've seen so far. He might have been seduced in one way, but he hangs on to his sobriety and the lapse may have been one of sentiment rather than commitment. "

I agree with all that you say. There is something genuinely nice and a bit sad about Felix, whose father is so louche and whose mother absconded when he was a boy. By the time he leaves his ex’s flat we understand, a little, what it is like to be him, moving through the world, and we like him a lot — the writer has made us like him! Is he a well-rounded character, or a bit-two dimensional?


message 8: by Deborah (new)

Deborah | 983 comments Mod
Definitely a well rounded character, but not a well rounded person.


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