James Hynes


I do not review many novels on this blog. I do not like to criticize authors. I know all too well how difficult it is to write a novel. I know the author’s anxiety — as David Remnick has described it,

the sense of dread, a self-lacerating concession that the book is not so much finished as abandoned and that positively everyone will see all the holes that are surely there, all the illogic, the shortcuts, the tape, the glue.

To point these things out — the tape, the glue, the flaws — feels a little cruel to me. And unnecessary, since we have no shortage of self-appointed book critics armed with blogs and Twitter feeds and what-all. So generally, when it comes to reviewing one another’s work, I think we writers ought to do as our mothers told us: “if you can’t say something nice…” At the same time, I do see flaws in most every book I read, if only small ones. I can’t help it; I’ve been doing this awhile myself. So what can I say? Nothing, usually. That is why I don’t mention most of the books I read.

There is another problem, too. You are as apt to make a fool of yourself raving about a book as trashing it. In my experience, the euphoria of finishing a novel that feels special usually sours pretty quickly. I tend to ruminate about things, and if you think about any novel long enough, if you flyspeck it and worry it and turn it over and over, then yes, inevitably you will find flaws. You can talk yourself out of loving anything. It’s not just books, either. Very often the things I fall in love with — the band that sounded so cool when I first heard it on the radio, the movie I raved about as I walked out of the theater, the woman who looked so beautiful at first glance (yeah, yeah, back when I was single) — all these things tend to lose their magic as I think about them. And think about them and think about them… So I have learned not to trust my first instincts when I love a book. Wait a couple of days, I tell myself. Let it cool.

The net result of all this overthinking is that, when I do truly love a book, I hesitate to say so.

I am feeling that sort of hesitancy now, because what I want to say, honestly, is that the book I just finished — Next by James Hynes — is one of the best novels I have ever read. Over the next few days, I’m sure I will begin to hedge. I will wish I was more temperate in what I wrote here. But right now, with the last few paragraphs still ringing in my ears? I can’t think of a novel I have enjoyed as much or been as deeply moved by. Certainly it’s been a long, long time since I had an electric reading experience like the last twenty or thirty pages of this book.

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Circadian Novels

Novels that take place in a single day, of which Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (1925) are the Adam and Eve, are apparently called “circadian novels.” I have never heard the term before, but I’m happy to learn it today via novelist James Hynes’s wonderful blog. Hynes links to a very smart article about “circadian novels” by Jim Higgins. The Guardian also has a list of the ten best. Hynes’s own new novel, Next, follows the day-in-the-life formula. I can’t wait to read it — as soon as I get my own damn novel wrapped up and emailed off to my editor.

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