Monday morning criticism: Woolf, Carpenter

March 5, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Good Monday morning. In the news today, support for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives remains steady even in the face of allegations that party workers engaged in a campaign of voter suppression during the 2011 election; allegations of fraud also persist in Russia’s weekend election, which resulted in 63% support for incumbent Prime Minister Vladimir Putin; and the U.S. seems determined to turn the possibility of war with Iran into an election issue.

In other news, here’s Rohan Maitzen on Virginia Woolf’s criticism:

Woolf’s criticism … (and let’s, after all, concede her the term) is full of life and vitality. It is not criticism meant for cataloguing according to Library of Congress rules; it is not criticism as scholarship. It offers us no nuggets of pure truth to wrap up between the pages of our notebooks. Though definite, it is never definitive: its pronouncements are really provocations, at least to me – reading it, I simmer with questions and challenges and counter-examples, along with admiration for the lambent play of Woolf’s mind across her subjects. From the Oresteia to Ulysses, from the Paston letters to Gissing’s New Grub Street: Woolf seems able to talk with ease and wit about anything. Her criticism stimulates us to participate in the conversation with her, though not quite as equals – for there’s nothing common at all about the cultivation or polish of her writing.

And, for those who missed it over the weekend, here’s a National Post review of Matt Lennox’s debut novel, The Carpenter, written by a somewhat less estimable critic than Woolf:

If CanLit has a predominant colour, that colour is grey. The grey of storm clouds and winter; of factory smoke stacks and car exhaust; of woodsmoke and cigarette ash. The grey of memory made manifest in old black-and-white photographs. And, not least important for Matt Lennox’s debut novel, the grey of moral relativism. “There was always the grey,” Lennox writes late in his novel, “and in the grey was where the truth often resided.”

This observation, placed in the head of retired cop Stan Maitland, is somewhat ironic, given that the forces advocating for black-and-white interpretations of events and individuals in the novel tend to be institutional: cops, the court, the Church. True, there is a criminal element that is fairly straightforward in its villainy, but these characters are more a means to an end than anything else, the end being an exploration of the forces that conspire to make an essentially good man do some very, very bad things.