Doing It His Way
- Brownout on Breadfruit Boulevard by Timothy Mo
Paddleless, 286 pp, £13.99, April 1995, ISBN 0 9524193 0 0
Was it Randall Jarrell who defined a novel as a long piece of prose fiction with something wrong with it? By that yardstick, Brownout on Breadfruit Boulevard is a novel thousands of times over. Timothy Mo has decided to go solo with this book, and has set up his own press for the purpose. This is not vanity publishing as that phrase is normally understood (Mo has in the past made money for himself and his publishers) but vanity certainly seems to come into it. What was intended as a declaration of independence reads as an inadvertent tribute to the missing – to the many people who, in the case of a conventionally published book, intervene with their skills between the originating ego of the novelist and the bookshop of final destination.
Vol. 17 No. 11 · 8 June 1995
From Robert Flint
It is well that Adam Mars-Jones put his remark about Randall Jarrell’s definition of a novel (LRB, 11 May) in the form of a question. What Jarrell wrote, near the end of a 48-page appreciation of Christina Stead’s novel The Man Who Loved Children in his own The Third Book of Criticism, was:
But The Man Who Loved Children has been a queer exception. I have lent it to many writers and more readers, and all of them thought it good and original, a book different from any other. They could see that there were things wrong with it – a novel is a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it – but they felt that, somehow, the things didn’t matter.
Jarrell reserved this oft misquoted remark for a writer whom he enormously liked. Quite a different story from Mars-Jones’s Timothy Mo.