George Saunders, no slouch as a short story writer, effectively delivers a workshop masterclass in printed form for writers of all kinds – ie everyone in 26. He takes half a dozen Russian short stories – Chekhov, Turgenev etc – and analyses them in engaging detail and riveting insights. You don’t have to agree with it all but the book opens your mind to issues like ‘what makes a story work?’
Episodes fleshing out the history of Wales over 24,000 years. Humane, insightful writing. Joy Williams’ postscript outlines how the story was to have reached the twentieth century. I’m now at the tensions of Romans, Britons and Saxons when the legions depart.
Thank god I had the sense to avoid seeing that dreadful movie starring Johnny Depp so utterly miscast in the title role. Possibly at some level I had thought ‘bet there’s a really good book on which this trash is based’. Anyone caught giggling at P.G. Wodehouse or the Lucifer Box stories of Mark Gatiss will recognise the influences, both before and after.
– Ben Archer
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