The Fighter, By Tim Parks

Not all of the writers, thinkers and politicians whom Parks considers in this volume of essays were "fighters": Thomas Hardy, Parks insists in an atypically anodyne run-through of familiar biographical details, didn't fight at all when the critics smashed Jude the Obscure to bits, and instead gave up novel-writing for good. Those who do fit the bill, however, tend to make for the sharper essays, so the opening one on D H Lawrence is a superlative piece of literary criticism, as is a subsequent essay on Dostoevsky.

The notion of "hypertext", the kind of text that fights the notion of a linear narrative, had me fighting to resist it (all that jumping about! All those arbitrary connections! Who can be bothered?) and is the subject of another masterly little piece of work. So too is Parks's take on Machiavelli, with the "sense of coercion" that he detects at the heart of Machiavelli's "pessimistic yet strangely gung-ho vision". Not all fighting, it would seem, is bad for us.

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