Reviews for Novel: An Alternative History : Beginnings to 1600


Booklist Reviews 2010 April #2
Everything we know about the origins of the novel is wrong. The novel did not spring from the minds of eighteenth-century English writers, nor did Cervantes invent it. Instead, the novel coalesced in the Mediterranean in the fourteenth century with "Greek romances and Latin satires." And writers were creating "experimental," internalized, mischievous, and wildly imaginative novels centuries before James Joyce. In his zestfully encyclopedic, avidly opinionated, and dazzlingly fresh history of the most "elastic" of literary forms, Moore shares his discoveries of ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Hebrew, Greek, Roman, and Christian fiction and analyzes with unflagging enthusiasm the novels of medieval and Renaissance Europe, followed by deep readings of Indian, Tibetan, Arabic, Persian, Japanese, and Chinese fiction. Reveling in the most innovative and daring creations, Moore energetically evaluates tales fantastic, chilling, hilarious, erotic, and tragic, comparing centuries-old novels to those of Barth, Gaddis, Pynchon, and Vollmann. Destined for controversy, Moore's erudite, gargantuan, kaleidoscopic, and venturesome "alternative history" will leave readers feeling as though they've been viewing literature with blinders on. Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.

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Choice Reviews 2010 December
In this entertaining overview of fictional narrative predating Don Quixote (1605), Moore summarizes more than 200 literary works from around the world. The author uses the term "novel" loosely, including in it everything from Gilgamesh and The Republic to Le Morte d'Arthur and Arabian Nights (he excludes long epic poems). A more scholarly study would not claim so much territory, but Moore aims not at experts but at intelligent readers looking for help with "old" books that are difficult to tackle. Coverage is both chronological and geographic: chapters deal with, respectively, the ancient novel (Egyptian, Hebrew, and so on), medieval works (Irish and Byzantine, among others), the renaissance novel (emanating from Italy, Spain, and elsewhere), Mesoamerican work (a "bridge" section rather than a chapter), the Eastern novel (Indian, Arabian, and so on), and the Far Eastern novel (Japanese and Chinese). Moore's voice is engaging, and he enlivens the discussion even more with references to current phenomena (e.g., Monty Python, kung fu movies). He contextualizes each work with brief background (ranging in length from a paragraph to several pages). The jocular tone may alienate advanced students but could prove ideal for nonacademic readers or beginning college students who find the more standard summaries in Masterplots dull. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates, general readers. Copyright 2010 American Library Association.

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Library Journal Reviews 2010 March #2

Moore, editor and independent scholar, informs readers that the first "real" novel--written by Xenophon of Athens in the fourth century B.C.E. and entitled Cyropaedia (The Education of Cyrus)--has a reputation for being "uncommonly dull." Moore detests "dull," so he explains that Xenophon was actually "feeling his way to a new form." In this gargantuan volume, Moore's primary goal is to provide a complete history of the novel from its beginnings to the year 1600, giving special attention to "innovative, unconventional" works, while his secondary goal is to respond to literary critics who attack writers for following "the dictates of art rather than those of entertainment." Moore identifies and discusses novels from the ancient, medieval, Renaissance, Eastern, and Far Eastern worlds. He writes authoritatively and enthusiastically about "the various forms and permutations of the novel" and seeks to "demonstrate the genre's age and infinite variety." His observations include the following: Giovanni Boccaccio's Elegy of Lady Fiammetta is his most daring literary experiment, The Perfect Generosity of Prince Vessantara qualifies as the first Buddhist novel, and Luo Guanzhong's Three Kingdoms deserves to be ranked among the greatest novels ever written. VERDICT Moore is serious in his effort to produce a useful work for the general reader. Recommended especially for literature students as well as curious laypersons seeking information and entertainment.--Kathryn R. Bartelt, Univ. of Evansville Libs., IN

[Page 102]. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.

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Publishers Weekly Annex Reviews
Most literature courses begin the study of the novel in seventeenth century England. But Moore's exhaustive history of the form shows that it started far earlier than that. Moore meticulously explores its evolution as far back as 2000 BC Egypt, proving not only that the novel is a much older invention than previously thought, but that its origins are barely European. This treatise will come as a welcome addition to the library of any literature enthusiast, who will eagerly pour through the critical analysis, commentary, and well written plot summaries and use it as a springboard for their own reading lists. Moore's irreverent and thoughtful style will appeal to readers who want to be challenged by what they read; readers looking for spoon-feeding should look elsewhere. The author's quick dismissal religion and other organized beliefs can be forgiven in light of the incredible breadth of knowledge about these works that he brings to this book. Moore has done such a superb job that readers will be eager for volume two the moment they put the book down. (May) Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.

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