Understanding Novels, By Thomas C Foster

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The Independent Culture

This guide is marketed at "book lovers and literature buffs" but it's really for those who want to learn how to write novels, not read them – as evidenced by Thomas C Foster's urging at the end of one chapter to "remember me in your acceptance speech" as you win an award for your wonderful novel.

As a guide to how to write novels, it's often very useful and highly practical: Foster shows, in reasonable detail and with humour, how much more or less information a character hides or shows, depending on whether that character is written in a first-person or third person voice, for instance, and also does a good job of reminding would-be writers of the importance of that beguiling first sentence ("a fairly complex seduction").

As an exploration of narrative technique aimed at students of the novel form, however, it is less successful, as it tends to favour breadth over depth, and it's depth that students need. But Foster also provides an entertaining history of the novel to appeal to general readers, so if one group of potential readers is disappointed, at least two others should go home happy.