Wood v. Percy

Walker Percy, “Another Message in the Bottle:”

It is no accident, as I have suggested, that the novel is almost exclusively a creature of Christendom. The fact that novels are narratives about events which happen to people in the course of time is given a unique weight in an ethos that is informed by the belief that awards an absolute importance to an Event which happened to a Person in historic time. In a very real way, one can say that the Incarnation not only brought salvation to mankind but gave birth to the novel. Judeo-Christianity is about pilgrims who have something wrong with them and are embarked on a search to find a way out. This is also what novels are about. In a word, it is my conviction that the incarnational and sacramental dimensions of Catholic Christianity are the greatest natural assets of the novelist.

James Wood, “Soul Cycle,” a review of David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks in The New Yorker:

I doubt that David Mitchell’s intention was to return the secular novel to theological allegory, but that is what “The Bone Clocks” does. Above all, his cosmology seems an unconscious fantasy of the author-god, reinstating the novelist as omniscient deity, controlling, prodding, shaping, ending, rigging. He has spoken of his novels as forming one “Über-book,” in which themes and characters recur and overlap: an epic ambition. Battles involving men and gods are, indeed, the life-and-death-blood of the epic form. But didn’t the epic hand off to the novel, in the last book of “Paradise Lost,” when the Angel Michael tells Adam and Eve that, though they will lose actual Paradise, they will possess “a Paradise within thee, happier far”? The novel takes over from the epic not just because inwardness opens itself up as the great novelistic subject but because human freedom asserts itself against divine arrangement. The “human case” refuses to be preordained. The history of the novel can, in fact, be seen as a secular triumph over providential theology: first, God is displaced; then the God-like author fills the theological void; then the God-like author is finally displaced, too. Despite Mitchell’s humane gifts as a secular storyteller, “The Bone Clocks” enforces an ordained hermeticism, in which fictional characters, often bearing names from previous Mitchell fictions, perform unmotivated maneuvers at the behest of mysterious plotters who can do what they want with their victims. Time to redact this particular Script.

Do read Wood’s review; it is, as they say, bracing.