The Wonder Lover by Malcolm Knox


I picked up The Wonder Lover by Malcolm Knox a few weeks ago but couldn’t focus (a mid-semester exam was on my horizon). Jenny suggested I set it aside until I could give it my full attention. Which I did. In the interim, she mentioned the book on her blog and compared Knox’s writing to John Irving. STOP EVERYTHING. Irving is my absolute favourite and best modern author. Stuff the study of population genetics, I thought, as I ripped into The Wonder Lover.

Read the blurb but all you really need to know is this: “What’s the worst thing that can happen to a man with three secret families? He falls in love.”

It shouldn’t have been a Knox/ Irving comparison exercise (and Jenny will probably be horrified that I turned it into that) but it was. Just a little, but it was.  Although Knox and Irving share the same precisely constructed characters and the same fantastical plot inclusions, I couldn’t fully commit to Knox because he was telling me, rather than showing me (or letting his intelligent reader infer). Basically what Zadie Smith said here. That.

And the problem with telling rather than showing is that the writing then lacks a certain compactness. Some people will stop reading now, given that I’ve said Knox’s 370 page book lacks ‘compactness’, in comparison to Irving’s 800 page tomes. Hush.

I won’t say much more other than the fact that while I really loved the stories of each of the women in The Wonder Lover, the ending sorely lacked originality.

3/5 One of those books that you’ll probably read regardless of reviews, simply because the premise is intriguing.

5 responses

  1. Oh, well that’s ok. I didn’t find that he told not showed in a way that Irving doesn’t though. Irving does do a lot of telling but the thing is I don’t mind him doing it because his voice is (was) so fantastic, and I didn’t mind Knox doing it either for much the same reason, and because it wasn’t an indication of lack of ability, in the way it often is with less skilled writers.

    I was so impressed with Knox’s book, to me it was different and original and refreshing for those reasons. But you might be right about the ending because I confess I don’t remember it.

    I’m sorry if I gave you the wrong impression about the Irving thing! And really, there can only be one JI.

    But, more importantly: tomorrow I am going to Gelato Messina! It’s all organised. I’m driving my daughter in to drop off her essay and then we are eating gelati. See what a good mother I am! So selfless, so in the service of others!

    • I guess it was more that I found Knox to be quite repetitive – we heard that John Wonder was ‘odourless’ and bland and quiet and fastidious at least a dozen times. It started to irritate me. Maybe it was deliberate, to show the perspective of the different but ‘identical’ families?

      In regards to the ending, I didn’t like the whole older man/ young, beautiful woman direction the story took. It was boring, particularly after the very clever old lady/ house plot line (which was so original and I’m sure will be memorable).

      YAY for Gelato Messina. I have no doubt that you’ll enjoy it!

  2. I’ve read a few reviews of this book and they all seem to concur that here is an author that tells rather than shows. Not a trait I’m generally fond of I can’t see myself reading this any time soon.

  3. Pingback: 20 books of Summer (except that it’s Winter) | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

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