Brenda Niall reviews 'Upstate' by James Wood

Brenda Niall reviews 'Upstate' by James Wood

Upstate

by James Wood

Jonathan Cape, $35 hb, 224 pp, 9781787330627

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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Published in November 2018, no. 406
Brenda Niall

Brenda Niall

Brenda Niall’s writing career began during her time as an academic at Monash University, where she was Reader in the Department of English. Since 1995 she has been writing full time. Her books include award-winning biographies Martin Boyd: A Life (1988), Georgiana (1995), The Boyds (2002), Judy Cassab (2005), and a memoir, Life Class (2007). Her book The Riddle of Father Hackett was shortlisted for the 2010 Magarey Medal for Biography. She is a frequent reviewer for The Age and ABR, and has been a guest at the Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, and Byron Bay literary festivals. In 2004 she was awarded an AO for services to Australian Literature. Her latest book is Can You Hear the Sea? My grandmother's story (Text Publishing, 2018).

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