Charles R(aymond) Larson The Times Literary Supplement - Essay

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The] steady superiority of Professor Larson [in The Emergence of African Fiction] is a reflection of his real familiarity with both classical and contemporary fiction, and of his finer critical judgment. The former prevents him from applying some strict and inappropriate notion of the "proper" novel to the material before him, while the latter enables him to look carefully at what is actually present in the work under review. Thus he makes some really interesting observations on the relative "plotlessness" of the first part of Things Fall Apart, on Achebe's preference for exhibiting character in action rather than through description or extensive dialogue or monologue, and on his use of short conte-like sequences within his novel to create a density of background for the principal action.

Professor Larson is also at least adequate in his discussion of [Wole Soyinka's] The Interpreters, and correctly identifies it as belonging with the later work of Armah rather than with the more situational novels of the first generation of African writers. But he goes badly adrift in failing to recognize the intensely African nature of Soyinka's approach to tragic action and fulfilment. This probably results from his failure to look at Soyinka's work as a whole; for an intensive reading of his plays and poems is essential to a full understanding of what is hap-pening in The Interpreters and to a grasp of mythological structure in that novel. Likewise, Professor Larson fails to see that Armah's Fragments, while registering the distance that the contemporary Ghanian bourgeoisie has travelled from African tradition, is not seeking to bury that tradition with the dying Naana, but (like Soyinka) to provoke a search for new ways of articulating it in modern life.

Thus he devotes far too much space to an attempt to untangle what "happens" in each chapter of the novel, but totally ignores the importance of a number of crucial incidents within it….

The Emergence of African Fiction suggests that breadth of reading, open-mindedness and adequate critical skills will carry any author a long way, regardless of his ethnic origins; but there is no substitute for a bit of preliminary work on African oral tradition, mythology, religious ritual and symbolism if the critic is to avoid the danger of missing a number of important clues and connexions.

"Through the Drum," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 3695, December 29, 1972, p. 1573.∗