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the Complete Review
the complete review - Non/Fiction / Literature


Miss Herbert
(The Delighted States)

Adam Thirlwell

[an overview of the reviews and critical reactions]

general information | review summaries | links | about the author

To purchase The Delighted States

Title: Miss Herbert
Author: Adam Thirlwell
Genre: Non/Fiction
Written: 2007
Length: 592 pages
Availability: The Delighted States - US
Miss Herbert - UK
The Delighted States - Canada
Mademoiselle O - Italia
  • UK title: Miss Herbert
  • US title: The Delighted States
  • A Collage of Novels, Romances, & Their Unknown Translators, Containing Ten Languages, Set on Four Continents, & Accompanied by Maps, Portraits, Squiggles, Illustrations, & a Variety of Helpful Indexes

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Why we haven't reviewed it yet:

Pretty overwhelming to deal with

Chances that we will review it:

Very good

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Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 6-8/2008 Michael Wood
Financial Times . 24/11/2007 A.S.Byatt
The Guardian . 27/10/2007 Michael Hofmann
Independent on Sunday . 28/10/2007 Tim Martin
The LA Times . 1/6/2008 Susan Salter Reynolds
New Statesman . 15/11/2007 Toby Lichtig
The New York Observer . 27/5/2008 Adam Begley
The NY Sun . 4/6/2008 Benjamin Lytal
The NY Times . 18/6/2008 Richard Eder
The Observer F 4/11/2007 Adam Mars-Jones
Prospect . 11/2007 Tom Chatfield
The Spectator B+ 24/10/2007 Simon Baker
Sunday Times . 11/11/2007 Tom Deveson
The Telegraph . 15/11/2007 Philip Hensher
The Times C- 9/11/2007 Sarah Birke
TLS . 14/12/2007 Brian Dillon
Wall Street Journal . 26/7/2008 Nicholas Desai
The Washington Post . 15/6/2008 Michael Dirda

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus, and most think it at least something of a mess

  From the Reviews:
  • "I would wonder about the medication levels of anyone who wasn’t annoyed at some point, but for all my resistance to the charm assault, I find myself wanting, in the end, to salute Thirlwell’s enthusiasm and energy, as well as his sheer affection for his ingenious and catholic selection of books. Indeed, he is sometimes onto something even when he doesn’t know it." - Michael Wood, Bookforum

  • "Miss Herbert is a thoughtful, and frequently hilarious, study of the nature of literary translation. It is also a work of art, a new form." - A.S.Byatt, Financial Times

  • "Miss Herbert is about the globalisation of the novel. (...) These moments of literary anecdotage, vivid, partisan, often eccentric, give Thirlwell his materials. (...) These stories and analyses are propelled in short, sometimes whimsically titled sections of brisk, bouncy sentences. Reading Thirlwell is like pounding along an unpredictable, slightly over-reactive boardwalk. It's a spoken style, sometimes the chummy side of spoken, sometimes the ear-bending side of chummy. Still, every page has good things. (...) Miss Herbert is not always original, not always sensible, and not always true, but it remains its own thing, and there is far more good in it than bad." - Michael Hofmann, The Guardian

  • "Miss Herbert is a sort of literary commonplace book, laden with assiduously researched stories about a very specific band of Euronovelists (....) All this smoke makes it hard to see whom Miss Herbert is aimed at. (...) Occasionally Thirlwell appears to forget about his obligations to authorial simpering and starts writing an altogether more muscular critical prose. Sunk deep in the morass of Miss Herbert's self-indulgence is a deft and thought-provoking piece of work. Whether the reader will stick around long enough to get it out is another matter." - Tim Martin, Independent on Sunday

  • "Thirlwell romps through European literature: Joyce, Gogol, Flaubert, Maupassant, Chekhov, Tolstoy, Hrabal, Kafka and others. (His book is not, as Thirlwell half-seriously asserts, a novel.) The anecdotes he chooses are delightfully obscure. The photos and illustrations (squiggles and flourishes meant to show the irrational wanderings of the human mind) are playful and evocative. He hyperventilates a bit, leaping around and making connections, but he has a good time, which is (ahem) always fun to watch." - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

  • "His range is wider than his continence, and we sometimes wonder what his point is beyond the demonstration of his own acuity. This is a shame, because Thirlwell is clearly very clever. (...) It is Eurocentric, eclectic and full of entertaining anecdotes (.....) His hauteur is all the more irritating for the many gems amid the verbiage. (...) Reading Miss Herbert is inevitably enriching, but too often one is reminded of Kingsley Amis's hapless protagonist in Lucky Jim, wrestling with an academic essay and cringing at "the pseudo-light it threw on non-problems"." - Toby Lichtig, New Statesman

  • "Much of the pleasure in Mr. Thirlwell’s book comes from the writers he quotes from and comments on -- among them Laurence Sterne, Diderot, Flaubert, Chekhov, Joyce, Kafka, Witold Gombrowicz and Nabokov, who declared that masterpieces are made of "dazzling combinations of drab parts." Combine that dazzling crew in your playground, and you’re unlikely to have a drab time. (...) I read it eagerly, with admiration for Adam Thirlwell’s daring; I was more often dazzled than dismayed." - Adam Begley, The New York Observer

  • "As a short book, The Delighted States would have been adroit and delightful, but it seems to need its size. It wants to be marvelous, a cabinet of curiosities and a canon at once. (...) What begins as a fresh approach to the problem of translation becomes, once linguistic barriers have been knocked down, merely a roundup of Mr. Thirlwell's all-time favorite authors. (...) And yet, for its problems, Mr. Thirlwell's book remains an enormous trove, a resource that is often provocative and occasionally brilliant." - Benjamin Lytal, The New York Sun

  • "He is something of a prodigy and, as such, unstoppable. In his torrent of digressive connections -- he joins together Chekhov, Samuel Johnson, Samuel Richardson’s Pamela and Hemingway in the space of three dozen lines -- there are times we feel we are losing headway and the page numbers are actually running backward. But the plums are real, even if squashed by too much else." - Richard Eder, The New York Times

  • "Adam Thirlwell clearly has a lot of charm. (...) Only a major charmer could secure this level of collaboration for such a monumentally annoying book. (...) His conceit (the word is the right one) is that his book is a sort of inside-out novel, whose characters are famous writers. (...) Thirlwell's style shows signs of a helpless aspiration to the epigram, without the compressive knack required (.....) Miss Herbert is full of propositions that contradict one another, when they aren't nonsensical in their own right (.....) He is nowhere near ready to share his wisdom with the world, and his editors have done him no favours with their indulgence." - Adam Mars-Jones, The Observer

  • "But this is nevertheless a thought-provoking book. In the end, Thirlwell arguably does deliver on his promise, since he traces literary style (or at least one branch of it) through the ages. However, given that this is a work which praises the digressive and tricky, it is tempting finally to think of it as a Shandean cock-and-bull story -- a yarn about yarn-spinners, occasionally troublesome, but written with intelligence, wit and great enthusiasm." - Simon Baker, The Spectator

  • "(T)he scholarly showmanship is impressive and he flourishes his paradoxes with panache. Here is a novel that "is not really a novel", one with a theme and variations but "no plot, no fiction, and no finale". In a jet-lagged version of literary history, Diderot and Kundera, Joyce and Hrabal are collaborators. (...) The reader frequently responds to Thirlwell’s broader assertions with "Yes, but" or (more often) "Yes, and ? " (.....) It seems that Thirlwell can’t decide whether he is writing “an inside-out novel”, producing a look-at-me-mum firework display or instructing those less fortunate than himself in how to appear well read." - Tom Deveson, Sunday Times

  • "If it is a novel, it's a very bad one (.....) In short, it's a rambling and highly egocentric work of criticism, about a bunch of unconnected writers whom Thirlwell happens to have read, and with whom he wants to associate himself. Practised readers will have no difficulty in diagnosing the usual source of silliness of this sort, and in fact Thirlwell not only lives in Oxford, but is a fellow of All Souls. (...) The sad impression that this book gives is that he started it wanting to be George Steiner. Very soon, he revised his ambitions, and wanted to be Alain de Botton. Neither of those should be the ambition of a grown man." - Philip Hensher, The Telegraph

  • "Confused ? I am. I sat down to read Miss Herbert enthusiastically. And then I sat down again. And again. And each time the long-winded sentences bogged me down, leaving me wondering whether I was simply not up to the intellectual challenge or whether the book was unnecessarily confusing. The idea is gimmicky. (...) There is a wealth of interesting information in this book. It could be a companion to Pierre Bayard's How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read ; a guide to authors' lives and a brief introduction to literary criticism. Had it been edited down, it would have been more likely to sustain the reader's attention. Instead the lengthy word count gives room for the downfalls of the book (.....) Thirlwell begins to read like the intellectual equivalent of a precocious American beauty pageant contestant. (...) The book is not a failure, but neither is it a compelling read for anyone other than the most determined and knowledge-hungry reader." - Sarah Birke, The Time

  • "The problem is rather the critical-fictional content. Thirlwell promises a book of cod-antiquarian curiosities, of metafictinal labyrinths in which compelling ideas are canvassed regarding the history of the novel, and his somewhat archly fuddled author's persona carries the whole thing off with a light touch. But then he delivers, at great and tedious length, a depressingly conventional disquisition on style and the problem of translation. (...) Despite its failings, there is an ambitious, stylish, intellectually vagrant book here, not so much fighting to get out as struggling to get in, from the margins." - Brian Dillon, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Mr. Thirlwell is still learning, but we should be grateful that he has shared his education with us. (...) The Delighted States truly raises questions that are vital to novelists and their readers; it will be hard for anyone with an interest in the subject to keep from defiling the margins with notes." - Nicholas Desai, Wall Street Journal

  • "Adam Thirlwell -- a young British writer and author of a well-received novel called Politics -- may have written the most dazzlingly tedious book of the summer. (...) Strangely enough, given his subject matter, Thirlwell's own prose is distinctly bland, despite its overbright talkiness. (...) Normally, I would eagerly applaud a young writer's enterprising attempt to recreate the critical essay, to spin out a set of variations on a theme in the history of fiction. But to bring off the loosey-goosey manner of a book like The Delighted States requires more than a few appealing literary anecdotes: It needs considerable authorial charm, and this Thirlwell lacks. Instead, he proffers many thoughtful, if hardly soul-stirring, analyses of passages from classic authors and a slew of sloganizing generalizations" - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

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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Miss Herbert: Reviews: Adam Thirlwell: Other books by Adam Thirlwell under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Adam Thirlwell was born in 1978.

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© 2007-2015 the complete review

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