When James Wood's first collection of essays, The Broken Estate, was published in 1999, the reviewers hailed a master critic. The common thread in Wood's latest collection of essays is what makes us laugh - and the book is an attempt to distinguish between the perhaps rather limited English comedy (as seen in Waugh, for example) and a 'continental' tragic-comedy, which he sees as real, universal and quixotic.
A particularly acerbic, and very funny, essay - which has been widely celebrated - deals with Zadie Smith, Rushdie, Pynchon and DeLillo; its title, 'Hysterical Realism', has already entered the phrasebook of literary language.
With its brilliant studies of Shakespeare, Dickens and Dostoevsky, Naipaul, Pritchett and Bellow, The Irresponsible Self offers more exhilarating despatches from one of our finest living critics.
Wood is one of the finest critics at work today, heir to Coleridge, Hazlitt and V. S. Pritchett...He combines the breadth and seriousness of Edmund Wilson with the pellucid prose style of Cyril Connolly...Wood pursues his craft with a high seriousness the like of which we had not thought to see again after the death of Lionel Trilling
Breathtakingly good... James Wood is pretty much as good a general critic of literary fiction as you'll find writing in English at the moment
A stylish writer as well as a clear-sighted reader. His prose bristles with the sort of epigrammatic brilliance that asks challenging questions even when providing answers
The most urgent and morally demanding critic around is the brilliant James Wood... A second powerful collection
This is a collection to be read by anyone who wouldn't normally dream of reading literary criticism