Forget the author – it’s the book that matters. That’s sound advice, but there are times when it is hard to follow. James Wood’s Upstate is a testing case. A quietly reflective little novel, elegantly written, with four main characters and a minimal plot, Upstate doesn’t look like a literary time bomb. Yet because its author is a renowned literary critic, it is bound to set off disputes about the idea of fiction that his book represents. As one of Wood’s many admirers, I would rejoice if he had written a masterpiece. Others might feel a degree of Schadenfreude in judging that he hasn’t. Wood is not free to write a novel that is merely good; he is called to perform to his own standard of excellence.
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