Wednesday 30 April 2014

The prose artistry of John C Wright


I find it difficult to read through a fiction, a novel, nowadays: I cannot wholly explain this, but it is partly because I read fiction so slowly and deliberately - savouring the prose (or, as is much more usual, being repelled by it).

Yet I have always had a natural and spontaneous ability to appreciate - sensitively to savour and to evaluate - prose artistry.

Once I have caught the 'flavour' of a prose writer, it does not take much to know its quality - esepcially if it is of very high quality.

(Rather as it only takes, say, three short lyrical poems of very high quality to be able to say that here is a real and worthwhile poet - something of the same applies to prose.)


I have thus far read the first section - some 50-70 pages?) of John C Wright's new book Awake in the Night Land - and I can see and say that here is an original and unique and very high quality prose artist - quite aside from any other virtues or deficiencies he may have as a writer of fiction.

What strikes me is the flexibility, the long phrasing, the assured naturalness (as conveyed by euphony or lack of jarring elements) - it reminds me most of when I first encountered Saul Bellow thirty-something years ago; when I was entranced by his prose-writing.

(I have come to dislike, indeed be revolted by, Bellow's world view and the pretentiousness of his content; but remain intoxicated by the actual quality of the prose.)

Wright's prose stands-out by its fluency - because so much prose of the past half century strikes me as over-edited, artificially impressive; in which the style is something generated post hoc, by cutting, chopping, rearranging.


Most modernist prose is a mosaic (much like modernist poetry) - but the best prose in English partakes of the leisurely expansiveness of the originators in the 17th century - the translators of the Authorised Version of the Bible (supremely), Thomas Browne, Thomas Traherne, Richard Burton and the like.

This persisted into the early twentieth century when it became replaced by pared-back, staccato, overwrought assemblages...

I admit these can be impressive, enjoyable, at first and in small doses and as a novelty - but English prose is not naturally or spontaneously of this style.


(The trajectory can be seen in the works of James Joyce - who began as a classic and great prose stylist in works such as the short story The Dead and the early chapters of Ulysses; and ended as a shallow, show-off in the gimmickry of the later, parodic chapters of Ulysses and the whole of Finnegans Wake.) 


Anyway, I am delighted to perceive that John C Wright has reconnected with the mainstream of English Prose - and has clearly achieved something new and marvellous in that line.


Note: I have a sort-of declaration of interest - in that JCW is a penfriend and has done a blurb for my forthcoming book. This is on the basis of his non-fiction blog - and until the past couple of days I had not read any of his fiction. Because of our pen-friendship, if I had not liked the fiction, then I would not have reviewed it - I would simply have said nothing. But my positive evaluation of his prose style is objective and uninfluenced by personal connections - my evaluation must be judged on its own merits. 

Further note: I just realized that the prose intermediary between the 17th century world of Thomas Browne and John C Wright himself is likely to be ER 'Worm Ouroboros' Eddison (1882-1945) - who JCW often mentions as a very particular favourite.