Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award
James Wood's first book of essays, The Broken Estate, established him as the leading critic of his generation, one whose judgments "are distinguished by their originality and precision, the depth of reading that informs them, and the metaphoric richness of their language" (Wyatt Mason, Harper's).
That book's brilliant successor, The Irresponsible Self, is a highly selective partisan history of the novel as a comic form of writing. In more than twenty passionate, sparkling dispatches, Wood defends what he calls "secular comedy"—human, tragicomic, forgiving, bound up with the very origins of the novel—against the narrower "religious comedy" of satire and farce, which is corrective, punitive, and theatrical. Ranging over the words and worlds of such crucial comic writers as Cervantes, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Waugh, Bellow, and Naipaul, Wood shows us the development of the novel in broad terms while examining each writer with his customary care and intense focus.
This collection also includes Wood's much-discussed attack on the "hysterical realism" of DeLillo and others, and his sensitive but unsparing examinations of White Teeth and Brick Lane. The Irresponsible Self is indispensable reading for anyone who cares about modern fiction.