Brenda Niall reviews 'Upstate' by James Wood

Brenda Niall reviews 'Upstate' by James Wood


by James Wood

Jonathan Cape, $35 hb, 224 pp, 9781787330627

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


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

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