April 07, 2005

Books within books

Cool discussion going on over on Critical Mass:

There are a lot of novels about writers. There aren't so many novels about writers in which the (real) novelist attempts to recreate his character's work.

AS Byatt's Possession is listed - yes, one of the most obvious and startling examples. AS Byatt writes a novel about writers, and has long sections where she shows us what the lead poets write. But it's AS Byatt who is writing AS these two Victorian poets. AS Byatt uses this device a lot, actually - there's a long book-within-a-book in Babel Tower as well.

Can you think of any more? I put down World According to Garp, and also 1984 - but I am sure there are more examples of this out there. The real-life novelist writes a book about a writer and re-creates the fictional writer's writing ... hm ... going through the looking-glass now ...

Posted by sheila

What about Pale Fire by Nabokov? One that's been on my shelf forever, but that I've never read.

Posted by: Another Sheila at April 7, 2005 03:38 PM

This isn't exactly the same thing, but October Light by John Gardner has a character who is reading a somewhat trashy novel--large parts of which are recreated in the book. October Light is not world-changing, but I always enjoyed it for its curmudgeonly northeastern characters, John Gardner's writing skills(which are significant), and the way in which he works the other novel into the narrative.

Posted by: DBW at April 7, 2005 04:18 PM


October Light, huh? Yet another one for the list.

Speaking of trashy novels - doesn't Stephen King give us whole sections of "Misery" in the book of the same name? I seem to recall that ...

Posted by: red at April 7, 2005 04:20 PM

I really dislike the novel within the novel in Babel Tower - could hardly get through it and eventually abandoned the attempt - but I love love love the outer story, to the point where if it were by itself, it might be my favorite novel ever. I'm not sure if this is truly the case, or if it's just the contrast with the inner story.

Posted by: Anne at April 7, 2005 04:28 PM


You and me both. I wasn't wacky about Babel Tower (although I love Possession) - What I thought she accomplished perfectly in Possession (which was to be "possessed" as a writer - by all these different voices) didn't work so well in Babel Tower. The book is supposed to be so erotic that it degenerates into an obscenity trial? I didn't find the book-within-the-book erotic at all. Am I remembering the plot correctly?

i can recite passages of Possession word for word, but Babel Tower didn't make as much of an impression.

Posted by: red at April 7, 2005 04:30 PM

This isn't a novel within a novel, but I love the fragments of a fictitious Elizabethan tragedy that Thomas Pynchon writes for The Crying of Lot 49.

Posted by: Bryan at April 7, 2005 05:02 PM

Ah yes, The Courier's Tragedy. My first tattoo was the muted postal horn from Lot 49.

Red, there are sections of Misery's Return in Misery, aren't there? I forgot about that one.

I too have Pale Fire on the shelf and mean to read it one day.

To this list I'll add Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore..., the strange and sometimes wonderful If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, by Italo Calvino. Of course you only get the first chapters of each one, and the whole thing is a bit evanescent. But it's good fun while it's going on.

Posted by: Linus at April 7, 2005 05:32 PM

Dune contains fragments of the histories written of the events in the novel by the main character's eventual wife.

Posted by: Scott Janssens at April 7, 2005 06:07 PM