21 June 2013

Review: On Moral Fiction by John Gardner

On Moral Fiction was first published in 1976, and is author and critic John Gardner’s view on the necessity for morality in fiction, arguing that fiction displays the beliefs of the author. I don't agree with his view on religion, but I suspect his view is tainted by the accident that killed his younger brother, that he apparently felt responsible for.

His opinion of many of the foremost 'literary' authors of his day (the 1970’s) is nothing short of scathing, and I can't help wondering what he would say about the fictional giants of our century, authors like EL James, James Patterson, Stephenie Meyer and George RR Martin.

He is also critical of the ‘professional reviewer’, who follows the nineteenth century model “which avoided talking about the work by talking, instead, about the man who created it”. I suspect he would both applaud and decry Amazon in the same breath: applaud for the ability of the Amazon review to reflect the opinion of the reader rather than some ivory tower critic, but decry because of the lack of insight of some of those opinions (I doubt Gardner would be a fan of the OMG Best Book EVA!!! review, even on his own titles).

“Writers do communicate ideas. What the writer understands, though the student or critic of literature need not, is that the writer discovers, works out, and tests his ideas in the process of writing.”

This is why rewriting and editing is vital—any worthwhile writing will change both the reader and the writer. If the writer is changed by the writing, the purpose of revising is to clarify and bring out this new understanding, to ensure consistency of thought and theme throughout. Self-published authors: take note.

While I don't agree with everything Gardner says, I do have to acknowledge that his arguments are intelligent, well researched, well written and coherently argued. It’s not an easy read but it is well worth reading, both to understand his point of view and, perhaps, to understand why we read fiction.

Thanks to Open Road Media and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

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