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the Complete Review
the complete review - literature


The Global Novel

Adam Kirsch

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To purchase The Global Novel

Title: The Global Novel
Author: Adam Kirsch
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2017
Length: 103 pages
Availability: The Global Novel - US
The Global Novel - UK
The Global Novel - Canada
  • Writing the World in the 21st Century

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting pieces; less convincing as any sort of whole

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
New Republic . 5/2017 Siddhartha Deb
The NY Times Book Rev. . 25/6/2017 H.S.Partington
Publishers Weekly . 13/2/2017 .
World Lit. Today A+ 9-10/2017 Will H. Corral

  From the Reviews:
  • "The challenge of the global novelist is, as Kirsch sees it, in many ways a matter of style and technique (.....) A tendency to downplay the messy interaction between politics, capital, and culture, and to focus instead on literary qualities like irony and ambiguity, runs through many of Kirsch’s readings. (...) (T)he presence of Houellebecq and Atwood in Kirsch’s book raises the question of why he includes no American writers. Is that because "global" is ultimately defined by whatever the United States is not ?" - Siddhartha Deb, New Republic

  • "Kirsch’s work is curious and illuminating. He asks whether a writer can be fairly tasked with being a cultural ambassador. (...) Kirsch’s work ends abruptly, however, leaving us ironically to ponder his theory that "it is impossible to fully know a place, or a book, from outside."" - Heather Scott Partington, The New York Times Book Review

  • "This slender volume from award-winning poet and critic Kirsch contributes little to the ongoing debate over the definition and function of world literature." - Publishers Weekly

  • "With completeness in context and unsparingness in form, Kirsch articulates the tangible geopolitical spirit conveyed by these writers, which is ultimately what makes them global. His ecumenical and upbeat analysis successfully draws a “more hopeful picture of world literature than the one painted by critics and theorists,” since “it is impossible to say that all global novels have certain qualities in common.” Timely, direct, and full of good sense -- characteristics that make it ideal for translation into other languages -- The Global Novel brilliantly discards critical pieties to address numerous arguments for what the twenty-first-century novel is becoming." - Will H. Corral, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In The Global Novel Adam Kirsch considers ... the global novel, "a perspective that governs the interpretation of experience" -- which has, in our (globalized) age, become one that is no longer isolated and localized but must acknowledge a different world-situation and -condition, and man's relationship with it..
       Kirsch begins with an overview of 'World Literature and Its Discontents', where he considers some of the debates surrounding the rise of the idea of a 'world literature', and the now very rapid spread of such writing -- including Tim Parks' complaints about The Dull New Global Novel, as well as the concerns Mizumura Minae raises in The Fall of Language in the Age of English, and, of course, Pascale Casanova's seminal consideration of The World Republic of Letters. Arguing that the proper approach to considering current questions about 'world literature': "is empirically, by returning to the books themselves", the rest of the book takes a closer look at 'the global novel' using specific examples. His choices are a few contemporary examples of novels that are 'global' also insofar as their audiences go, transcending boundaries, having found a readership across the world (and in many different languages), his focus on the more or less popular-'literary': not quite Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (though that does get a mention, too) but the likes of Murakami, Houellebecq, Atwood, and Ferrante.
       Kirsch's choices are selective: of the eight authors he considers in depth (focusing on a single work by each, except in the case of Elena Ferrante, where he considers the multi-volume (but also unified) 'Neapolitan quartet'), only one is a Nobel laureate (Pamuk), and while three write in English -- and two of the books (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah and Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist) specifically deal with the American experience -- none of the authors are from the United States (this despite the continued very significant American literary presence globaly).
       Three of the chapters pair two books -- Murakami's 1Q84 and Roberto Bolaño's 2666 as 'Alternate Realities', for example -- and two more look at individual titles or collections (Pamuk's Snow; the Ferrante quartet). It's a solid spread of fiction, covering a variety of kinds of global novels, and the authors' engagement with a variety of features specific to modernity, generally with what is arguably a universality to them (suggesting or explaining also their appeal to worldwide audiences).
       Kirsch's summaries and readings are fine, and highlight different facets of the global novel; they're not uninteresting and occasionally insightful. But his empirical approach suffers some from the limited selection of books considered; representative though they may be of aspects of the contemporary 'global novel', they nevertheless are only a sliver of the phenomenon. Meanwhile, in only devoting a few pages to each work, Kirsch is unable to truly build up a case for (and against) contemporary world literature: he offers interesting foundations, but there's so much more to it.
       The Global Novel is an interesting small contribution to the question of Writing the World in the 21st Century, but at barely a hundred pages remains more starting point than convincing larger picture. Kirsch writes well and covers enough ground to make for an agreeable read, but it's more thought-nudging than -provoking.

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 May 2017

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The Global Novel: Reviews: Books discussed in The Global Novel under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American writer Adam Kirsch was born in 1976.

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© 2017 the complete review

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