Prose Toad Literary Blog

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Shirley Hazzard, Nice Lady, Bad Book


Shirley Hazzard won The National Book Award for this her second novel, The Great Fire. Thus, the state of The Novel has come down to this: a modest writer of a certain age with moderate narrative skills, a nice person, is the best we have. Gad, didn’t anybody else think that a stuffed-shirt, 33 year-old should keep his perverted hands off a 17 year-old Helen. In addition, don’t readers think that adolescent Helen a bit learned for her age? In fact she’s as learned as Shirley Hazzard. Moreover, didn’t any reviewers wonder why Peter is just thrown in there half way through the novel? As other critics noted, he is a wimpier version of Leith and he seems unnecessary to the story.

Sure, love stories hold readers when lovers separate, but I still have no idea why Leith wouldn’t want that nice nurse. She’d be much better in bed and just as loyal. Furthermore, Helen’s family is bizarre; Driscol is a caricature of provincials, not believable at all. In fact, everyone that lives in Australia or New Zealand seems to read dusty mediocre books all day and study French. That is bad for tourism.

Novels used to attempt the Big Idea. Does anyone know what Hazzard with all her pretentious prose is getting at? War is bad, really? Love is difficult during war? Yeah, we’ve had 10,000 books about the same subject, so what’s new here? Is there an anti-bomb theme? No, she just passes by Hiroshima with a few hackneyed notions. Again, Shirley clearly is a nice woman and she sells many books, but she’s basically one of the mediocre.

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