Isaiah Berlin famously divided people into two categories: hedgehogs and foxes. The former know one big thing with absolute certainty; the latter know many small things. When it comes to writers of fiction, a parallel distinction might be made on stylistic grounds. There are some writers who cultivate a finely attuned personal style – a style that becomes unmistakably their own. Others prove to be gifted mimics who can write in any style they please and freely adapt their mode of expression to reflect their fictional contexts. Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, and Gail Jones are all hedgehogs; David Mitchell, Jennifer Egan, and Nam Le are foxes. In rare cases – James Joyce, David Foster Wallace – a writer can be both. J.M. Coetzee and Philip Roth are often assumed to be hedgehogs, but they are in fact cleverly disguised foxes. Martin Amis would probably like to be a fox, but he is pure hedgehog.
A particularly cunning fox
by Rodney Hall
Pier 9, $24.99 pb, 198 pp, 9781742665917
If you are a single issue subscriber you will need to upgrade your subscription to view back issues.If you are already subscribed, click here to log in.
James Ley is an essayist and literary critic who lives in Melbourne. A former Editor of Sydney Review of Books, he has been a regular contributor to ABR since 2003.
By this contributor
Leave a comment
Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.
NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.