From The Washington Post’s Book World/washingtonpost.com
Elinor Lipman is a far more serious novelist than she pretends to be or is allowed to be by reviewers. (I learned a long time ago that to be taken seriously you need to cut back on the funny lines. I once all but won the Booker Prize for a novel from which, on Kingsley Amis’s advice, I had removed anything remotely mirthful. Alas, it was still “all but,” so I reverted to my old ways.) Lipman, declining to learn this worldly wisdom, goes on making jokes and therefore tends to get described with adjectives that are good for sales but bad for literary reputations: “oddball,” “hilarious,” “over-the-top,” “quirky,” “beguiling” or, worst of all, “summer reading.” The prose slips down too easily and pleasantly to allow her to rise into the literary top division, where the adjectives become “piercing,” “important,” “profound,” “significant,” “lyrical,” “innovative” and so on. Dull, in fact.
But up there at the top is where this enchanting, infinitely witty yet serious, exceptionally intelligent, wholly original and Austen-like stylist belongs. Delicately, she travels the line where reality and fiction meet. Reality being more oddball, quirky and chaotic than fiction can ever be, Lipman inures us to the truth about the way we live by making it up as she goes along, cracking jokes and pretending it’s all fiction.
I find a lot of sad truths about the literary establishment here. Or not?
Randall Jarrell’s “Pictures from an Institution” is one long joke, and I think it’s worth all his poetry.
A review like this one makes me want to read the book. Shouldn’t that be the point?
I totally dig the cover!
Because you are the only other person listed on LibraryThing as having reviewed Georgette Heyer’s “The Grand Sophy” I sent you a note about her prolific use of exclamation marks. I was unfair to Putnam’s editor of 56 years ago; I just turned up an English Book Club edition of 1951 in which they are equally prevalent, so the fault (if any) wasn’t in putting them in, but in not encouraging her to take most of them out.
Gibbon, Bristol, England
John — somehow I missed that first note. Was it at LibraryThing, or here?
At any rate, I admire your persistent pursuit of an answer on the exclamation point proliferation in The Grand Sophy.
It is too bad that in a case where the editor could have made a good book better, s/he chose a hands-off policy.
And “Pictures from an Institution” is now on my to be read list.