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With the sky turned prematurely dark, cars shooshing by in the wet street, and shrieking pedestrians dashing for cover from the downpour, I snatched a few rare minutes under the reading lamp for some cosily discursive reading, and happened upon this passage in an essay by Cynthia Ozick:

Suspense occurs when the reader is about to learn something, not simply about the relationship of fictional characters, but about the writer's relationship to a set of ideas, or to the universe. Suspense is the product of teaching, and teaching is the product of mastery, and mastery is the product of seriousness, and seriousness springs not from ego or ambition or the workings of the subjective self, but from the amazing permutations of the objective world.
Portrait of the Artist as a Bad Character and Other Essays on Writing by Cynthia Ozick

This mini-meditation on the properties of suspense had been prompted by a bout of flu and a sickbed reading of Thomas Hardy, which helped Ozick the novelist and critic see more clearly the limitations of the modern novel. The observations may seem, at first, to have little to do with childhood reading and with children's books (albeit that she makes several references to children's literature in her essay). Certainly, it doesn't apply to the bulk of children's publishing's current output and that is because the bulk of children's fiction, at any one time, is always going to be lacking in mastery, and positively allergic to seriousness. But apply Ozick's comments to the best that children's literature has to offer - Philip Pullman, Paul Jennings (and I cite this disparate pairing intentionally) - and it will be found that her definition fits both the work and the author.

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This page contains a single entry by achuka published on June 22, 2004 9:31 PM.

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