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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Long Form

Kate Briggs

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To purchase The Long Form

Title: The Long Form
Author: Kate Briggs
Genre: Novel
Written: 2023
Length: 430 pages
Availability: The Long Form - US
The Long Form - UK
The Long Form - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)

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Our Assessment:

A- : well-conceived interplay of theory and (putting-into-)practice

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 19/4/2023 Jo Hamya

  From the Reviews:
  • "The progress of their day is an anchor to the text’s other discursions: a reading of Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Jones, and various considerations of the novel form by way of figures such as Gertrude Stein, Ian Watt, John Dewey. This, by extension, also creates a meta-commentary on the book’s own progression, and importance. Briggs’s greatest achievement would be to move between these propositions harmoniously – and sometimes she seems to achieve the impossible, weaving an invisible emotive thread between polemic and experience to powerful effect. (...) At times, this makes for exhilarating reading. There is a sense of new ground being broken. But too often, the links between polemic and experience are made excessively clear. Good novels teach their readers how to understand them on their own terms. The Long Form contains too many instances of outright handholding." - Jo Hamya, The Guardian

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Long Form can be summed up as a day-in-the-life novel, of Helen and her infant daughter Rose. Rose is Helen's only child, they live alone and Helen's day -- and life -- are, for now, completely dominated by the needs and wants of this new, near-helpless creature:

Rose, alive with process, responsive to and forever testing her environment. A constant, sometime collaborator, sometime redirector of the intention of every single one of Helen's intentions.
       Even as most is, in some ways, routine and expected -- times for feeding, sleeping, etc. -- almost everything also -- specifically the when -- remains unpredictable; Helen has to basically mostly go with the infant's flow. Among the few things beyond the merely infant-centric is the arrival of a book that Helen ordered, online (easier than trekking to a bookstore): Henry Fielding's massive novel, Tom Jones:
     Second-hand, it cost her one pound & thirty-two pence plus postage and packaging. Three days later, it was here -- bringing in its different energy. Its humour and its ideas. Its love stories. Its own household arrangements. Of all the novels, this one.
       The Long Form takes its title from Roland Barthes' The Preparation of the Novel (the English translation of which was done by author Briggs), where, Briggs notes in the Sources appended to the novel: "throughout the phrase works as a synonym for the novel"; a Barthes-quote from it features also as one of the novel's two epigraphs:
My problem: how to pass ... from a short, fragmented form ('notes') to a long, continuous form (typically called 'the novel').
       Briggs' effort in The Long Form is somewhat along these lines, too: the sections and chapters are not necessarily short, but there is a fragmented feel to it all, the focus switching all around. While the day-in-the-life progression dominates, the narrative goes off on any number of tangents -- connected to events and experiences, but ranging from the more essayistic to recollections of past scenes and experiences, such as Helen's pregnancy and the experience of giving birth. A variety of books are also referred to and discussed -- several in some depth, but none to the extent Tom Jones is, as it too allows Briggs/Helen to reflect on the novel-form, and on what Briggs is doing, and trying to do, here. There's Fielding's explanation, in the novel, in particular:
In Henry Fielding's new Province of Writing, his proposition for a novel, it was like this:
     It wanted to tell a story.
     It wanted to describe itself.
     It wanted to open -- to unfold -- its own fictional world. For this world to hold steady enough for someone else to believe in.
     It wanted, also, to think around and about it -- its world, its project, roaming in the wider vicinity of itself. Bringing in (as well as pointing outward towards) other subjects, other books, and fields of activity: invoking authorities and not necessarily authorities from the broader social world, writing the names Horace, Homer, and Aristotle on pages that faced-touched those recounting the made-up lives of Molly Seagrim, Mrs Deborah Wilkins, and Tom Jones ...
       The novel-form is considered throughout the novel -- both theoretically and in practice, as The Long Form is itself an experiment in the form. Tom Jones is the text that features most prominently, but theoretical works are also discussed, from John Dewey to Forster's Aspects of the Novel, while other authors and works of both fiction and non are also considered, from Buchi Emecheta to Gertrude Stein. On the dealing-with-an-infant side, it's the work of D.W.Winnicott that plays the largest role.
       Late in the novel, Briggs writes about Jean Paulhan's The Flowers of Tarbes and his criticism of authors' fear of relying on the familiar:
     With editors and writers so invested in novelty, in originality, new writers are feeling like they have been forbidden, or should be actively forbidding themselves, from drawing on these resources -- for fear of cliché.
       In rooting her work so deeply in that of her predecessors -- notably but hardly only Tom Jones -- Briggs builds on and uses the familiar, even as the novel is also one of modern 'novelty'. (Of course, as the discussion of and some of the examples from Tom Jones clearly demonstrate, even that old classic can seem strikingly original and modern compared to some contemporary fiction that tries to be 'original' .....)
       The Long Form focuses closely on mother and child and their (near-constant) interactions -- a realistic reflection of how all-consuming that can be with an infant. (As noted, Helen lives alone, and the father of the child is not in the picture.) Others do figure in the story, but largely only in passing; the one significant other person is Rebba, with whom Helen used to live and who she is still close to -- but even that relationship is kept at some distance.
       The intensity of the mother-child relationship, with the infant's complete dependency on her mother and her still rudimentary process of adjusting to and learning about this world around her -- where everything is new and a novelty -- dominates the story, and effectively so -- but Briggs also uses it as springboard to a wide variety of other things (not least: the form and nature of the novel), making for an impressively expansive narrative.
       The Long Form is meandering and somewhat fragmentary -- and long, too, at over four hundred pages -- but mostly to good effect, an exercise in fiction that easily carries the reader along in its digressive unfolding. It captures the experience of motherhood, at that stage of an infant's life, very well as well, but isn't limited to that, with Briggs mostly achieving her larger ambitions.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 March 2024

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The Long Form: Reviews: Kate Briggs: Other books by Kate Briggs under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction

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About the Author:

       British-born author and translator Kate Briggs teaches at the Piet Zwart Institute.

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© 2024 the complete review

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