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This review is taken from PN Review 15, Volume 7 Number 1, September - October 1980.

HOT FOR SECRETS Frank Kermode, The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative (Harvard University Press) £5.50

Readers of Frank Kermode's new book, based upon the 1977/78 Charles Eliot Norton lectures, will, predictably, fall into two almost mutually exclusive groups, the irritated and the intrigued. I confess myself to be among the latter. Kermode's is an agile mind, enviably at ease with the puzzling and the unexpected, and he chose to devote his Harvard lectures to problems in the theory and practice of interpretation, using as his major illustrative text the Gospel according to St. Mark. Those who read The Genesis of Secrecy for any new light it may throw on the meaning of St. Mark, the earliest of the four canonically accepted gospels, will be disappointed. Kermode presents the difficulties that stand in the way of interpretation and the validation of interpretative hypotheses rather than a guaranteed strategy leading to the entrapment of truth. For this is a book, as its subtitle announces, on the interpretation of narrative and not an attempt to weigh the truth or decide on the meaning of St. Mark's Gospel. Kermode's choice of text, though not accidental, is, he would claim, incidental to his major theme and this is why we should not be surprised that he illustrates his arguments with references to James and Joyce, to Thomas Pynchon and Henry Green. The problems of interpreting narrative are the same whether one's chosen text is classed as fiction, as history or as gospel, though in the last case they stand out more clearly because of the unique claims that the ...


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