Hood, Hugh (Contemporary Literary Criticism)
Hood, Hugh 1928–
Hood is a Canadian novelist, short story writer, essayist, and biographer. Using Canada as a microcosm, he examines the human effort to order chaos. His perspective is essentially Christian and moral, yet strikingly individual. His tone vacillates between the serious and the satirical, and his fictive atmosphere can at times become surreal. Critics have admired his concise diction and skillful craftsmanship, especially as evidenced in his short stories. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52.)
"Whoever heard any talk about painting that made sense?" asks a character in ["White Figure, White Ground"]. One might answer, "Hugh Hood, the author of this novel." This rising young Canadian writer has here tackled a notoriously difficult subject and brought it off. Not with any frothing at the eyeballs over the agony and the ecstasy of it all, and without preciosity (well, not much), but with the simple leverage of insight…. [By] subtle cross-illumination among its parts, the author casts fresh and searching light not only on the creative process itself but on the father-son relationship, the dynamics of marriage, the barrens of un-fulfillment and the whole ambiguous issue of roots and growth.
Mr. Hood saws the air a bit in the big mandatory sex scene, and he has a few stylistic tics (e.g., the stuttering adjective). But his excesses are usually those of vitality. He has a fine ear for dialogue, a sharp eye for the fatuities and venalities in Art and its suburbs, and a sure feeling for place and atmosphere. He has an incisive humor; he's not afraid of an honest sentiment; he can outwrite many an established novelist. A slightly firmer rein on this bounding troika talent, and he should light up the sky.
Ernest Buckler, "Anti-Paintings of What Wasn't There," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1964 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 16, 1964, p. 5....
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[The Camera Always Lies] reminds me of the novels that used to be circulated by the Doubleday Dollar Book Club and the Literary Guild—books that were neither quite good enough nor quite bad enough to make it with Reader's Digest Condensed Books, or the Book of the Month Club.
Mr. Hood is a good, solid, old-fashioned pro, when it comes to putting a short story or a novel together. It seemed to me that his collection of stories, Flying A Red Kite, had an Irish texture. Its strong, formal sentences and paragraphs reminded me of the Irish writers who did their best work between the wars: Frank O'Connor and Sean O'Faolain, for instance. None of the stories was very interesting, but none was phony, either. (p. 46)
The trouble is that Mr. Hood's style is too heavy for this kind of book, the plot of which revolves around a film star who attempts suicide….
[If] Mr. Hood writes another novel like this one, he should stop using expressions like "sybaritic nuance," and "Pompeian tone," and he shouldn't refer to girls as "indigenous fauna," chiefly because the persons who are most likely to buy this kind of book won't know what he's talking about….
Personally, I think that Mr. Hood would have written a much more entertaining book if he had followed the suggestion of James (From Here To Eternity) Jones, forgotten the "delicate niceties" and just "sort of bullassed right...
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Hugh Hood is an intellectual writer. Moreover, he's a very ambitious one. In blunt terms: he's a mind-stretcher. In fact, Hood attempts dimensions in his fiction which most writers would just as soon experience for themselves in somebody else's work. Furthermore, he sees himself as a writer not in going from one book to the next, but in terms of a life's work….
And, although he is a deceptively simple writer (a description he hates, I believe, and understandably) and easy enough to read, the hard fact is that he is a complicated writer and sometimes difficult to understand. This must somehow perplex critics who are accustomed to having their ambitious writers do rather obviously strange things with typography, vocabulary, and syntax. But, as Hood has said, he never had any intention of being "in any way an experimental or avant-garde writer."
To discover Hood at his most deceptively simple complexity, I would recommend that one begin by reading Around the Mountain: Scenes from Montreal Life. These are remarkably skillful stories which often begin as essays on the topography or sociology of Montreal and end in stories which, by means of fiction, explore the significance of various aspects of Montreal life…. In these deceptively casual stories Hood looks beneath the way things look; by means of fiction he probes for the significance which is contained in the neighborhoods of the city. He reaches for...
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[A] growing realization that White Figure, White Ground is one of the good ones can be justified if you consider the relationship of this self-portrait of the creative imagination to the Canadian tradition as well as the broader context of North American and English letters.
From Wilhelm Meister onwards the novel of the artist has had a strong picaresque bias and has traditionally tended to favour vagrancy…. However, Hood's equivalent of the American story of going out west isn't getting the hell out. It's the exploratory journey from Montreal to Barringford (Shelburne N.S.)—therefore to the east, the rising sun, the sea, Jerusalem and Eden—followed by the return to the big city and Alexander MacDonald's exhibition in cosmopolitan New York. First because the country is mature when the artist wants to stay at home. Second because Hood wanted MacDonald's quest to transform the east coast into a radical metaphor of space, the kind of moral topography on which everyone of his novels has been pinned up to now, the strikingly concrete but quasi-allegorical extended emblems which he speaks of as the raw imaginative material of his fiction.
The creation of a poetic space within which the imagination ranges freely, the use of the Canadian landscape as metaphor, is one of Hood's most significant achievements. Not nature as foreboding, bleak, powerfully destructive, hostile, oppressive, but nature as a forest of...
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William H. New
The sustained work of Hugh Hood … provides a connection between the realistic and stylistically experimental…. [White Figure, White Ground] is imbued with an interest in Sartre and Genet, and observes how a painter strives to distinguish between a libertinism he despises and a healthy acknowledgment of his sexual being, and how in his work he tries both to succeed and to paint that which is invisible—light sources rather than colours. But these ideas lie on the surface fairly overtly. The painter observes at one point:
I've always depended on form. I'm a very formal painter but I never realized how much till I started this thing. Form is illumination: the phrase likely occurs in some text-book somewhere. I seem to recall something about splendor veri and inner radiance, and the clarity of the intelligible in the sensible, and all that jazz….
The conversational tone but formally argumentative style is typical of Hood. He strives not for conscious symbolism, but for the effect of surface reality which on examination proves to be masking much deeper truths. While his reportorial third person approach to dialogue does not always adequately distinguish characters' separate personalities, his effort—as in his painter's paintings—to have '"what's outside inside … or the other way around"'—characterizes the intent of the tone structures which (given this...
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Each time I read The Swing in the Garden I become more convinced that the novel marks an innovative high point in Canadian fiction. But in what sense is it innovative? Certainly, it does not share the features associated with many of the so-called "experimental" Canadian works: there is no celebration of chaos in thought or style, no suggestion that the world is an absurd place which can never be known, no indication that the narrator calls himself into question or doubts the validity of his perceptions, no parody of the conventionally "worn-out" fictional forms. The syntax is well-ordered; the mental connections are extremely rational. In an era of fictional anti-heroes, angst, and discontinuous prose, Hood has had the courage to search for a stable view of time, concrete understanding of place, and a firmly grounded means to knowledge. He is concerned with establishing a moral vision, or "rightness" of sight—a form of perceptual synthesis which allows discrete moments of experience to be brought together in a meaningful aesthetic complex. Moreover, this act of aesthetic union involves a deeply religious approach to life. Hood sees God in the Coleridgean sense, as the embodiment of a Trinitarian view which resolves dualities through the creation of a synthesizing Holy Third. The Trinitarian viewpoint unites opposites, merging past and future, death and life into a conception of the entire human project. For Hood, then, there is an order...
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