Pay Attention, Class

Robert Hanks

  • Turbulence by Giles Foden
    Faber, 353 pp, £16.99, June 2009, ISBN 978 0 571 20522 6

Much has been written about the potentially stultifying effects of creative writing courses on novelists, usually on the assumption that it’s the students who are going to feel these effects. But what about the teachers: is there a danger that too much time spent trying to pin down what constitutes Good Writing (and not enough time spent on the writing itself) might be bad for them? Giles Foden’s first two novels, The Last King of Scotland, about Idi Amin’s Uganda, and the Boer War-set Ladysmith, seemed, though far from flawless, almost effortlessly distinctive and intelligent; and while his third, the self-consciously terse, thrillerish Zanzibar, was less impressive, it is with Turbulence, his first book since his appointment as professor of creative writing at the University of East Anglia in 2007, that real difficulties begin. The distinctive blurs into the mannered, and the whole book seems overburdened with a desire to be literary.

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