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
James Ley is an essayist and literary critic who lives in Melbourne. A former Editor of Sydney Review of Books, he has been a...
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