- Reviewed by
In the game of golf, success is gauged on any given hole by the comparison of the individual golfer's performance on that hole to an ideal, a paradigm of performance, a recognized standard of excellence (par). The same principles of evaluation of performance ought to be consistently employed in book reviews. Up against a par established by the finest books of their type, the three books under review here, all introductory surveys of the novel genre, ought to be judged in relation to books such as Percy Lubbock's The Craft of Fiction (1921), E. M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel (1927), Arnold Kettle's An Introduction to the English Novel (1951), Wayne Booth's The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961), Scholes and Kellogg's The Nature of Narrative (1966), plus David Lodge's The Language of Fiction (1966) and The Modes of Modern Writing (1977). Those are just some of the pros who have teed it up and rifled their shots at par in the past, but since the Thirties with the advent of "open" tournaments, professionals and amateurs have played against one another and against the same par. In modern golf, the idea of an amateur's winning a tour "Open" has become almost unthinkable. At the outset, then, let it be known that this is an "Open" review with an established par and the tournament field is comprised of two pros and one amateur.
Ian Milligan in his The Novel in English: An Introduction states early on that his "book has been written to encourage students to deepen their experience of reading by paying close attention to the language of the novel." He makes it quite clear his target audience is comprised of "beginning students" whose "first task is to become aware of the pattern of meanings which can be discerned in the novel we are studying." However, one of the real strengths of his book is his belief that novels "are exciting machines (verbal machines) which transport their readers in space and time" and, even though his readers may be "beginning students," they are entitled to the free ride and needn't be talked down to at any point. Therefore, Milligan's book is a study of form and style as well as theme and history. It discusses all the major writers of the genre but it chooses "five novels in particular . . . to give a sense of the diversity of the novel-family and some sense of its evolution in time." Those five novels are Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and The Great Galsby. Sounds pretty conventional for books of this type, doesn't it?
Milligan's book, however, is extremely well managed and executed and, ultimately, quite unconventional. It is, first, a tightly scheduled tour through [End Page 333] the aspects of novel form—plot, character, narration, language—but, as that tour proceeds, the tourist is treated to a complete historical designation of the works and writers who make up the novel genre from Boccaccio to the Brontës to John Barth. However, not only does Milligan guide his readers on a historical tour through the whole genre of the English, American, and Western European novel, a tour that admittedly many of us have taken before (although perhaps not so many of the "beginning student" audience toward which this book is aimed), but he also steers the tour bus off into the countryside and takes us to some places where guided tours have never gone before. A significant subtext of Milligan's book is the emergence of Third World novelists from India, Africa, Australasia, the Caribbean, and South America as major contributors to the novel in English. His book contains discussions of works by the Nigerian Achebe, the Ghanaian Armah, the Kenyan Thiong'o, the West Indian Naipaul, and the...