Thursday, April 29, 2010

Arts & crafts

I take back what I said only the other day about historical detail in fiction.
I'm reading A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book, an intricate Art Nouveau gem, layered and woven and brimming with Victorian and Edwardian detail, which is just as it should be for the era, and a triumph of "tell, don't show" (yes, I do have that the right way around).
Points of view are as slippery as a Pre-Raphaelite sprite, descriptions are as richly detailed as Lalique masterpieces, and bald historical fact is not trussed up or embedded in dialogue: one is simply updated by the narrator on the progress of the Boer War or anarchist assassination attempts.
Of course - of course! - historical detail is only annoying and excessive in clumsy hands, and Byatt's hands are masterful.

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