Cover Image: The Long Form

The Long Form

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Member Reviews

This novel follows Helen in her flat with her six week old baby Rose. Helen escapes their shared experience by immersing herself in the classic novel "A history of Tom Jones: a foundling." A clever novel which I felt was beyond me in places but that I am still glad I read.

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Briggs' "The Long Form" is a text I will definitely be revisiting; verging on pretentiousness but not getting enveloped by it, the novel deals with the themes of motherhood, identity, and the passing of time.

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Telling the story of menthal health on a struggling mum, this book resonates to me in such a loud, clear message; sometimes way too clear. Although the plot and filled with clever lines, sometimes the connection are made way too excessive, killing the mystery and proses before.

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A book about motherhood, Henry Fielding and literary theory boring? Think again! The plot line seems simple: Helen caring for her baby Rose during maternity leave. Not having children myself I wasn't sure whether this book would be for me.

It was. Caring for Rose is the starting point for philosophical meanderings about how a newborn redefines you as a person and your interactions with the world, about Tom Jones and novels, about life...

I failed to meet the ARC deadline (thank you NetGalley and Fitzcarraldo Editions) because I devoured this one slowly. There is so much in this book that I am going to buy it, because I need to read this one again!

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A book about books, about reading, twisting and turning and dissecting the ways in which reading and literature shapes our lives.

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The Long Form struck me as almost an essay-novel hybrid which at times I couldn't get enough of, but at other parts I found my mind wandering. Briggs writes so intelligently, I sometimes felt lost but the words flow so elegantly it is difficult to stop reading and these moments of confusion are mostly short-lived. This is absolutely a book that I would like to revisit, and it is a book that inspires a lot of questions. I want to recommend this to friends so that I can discuss it and delve further into this intriguing book.

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The Long Form by Kate Briggs is a challenging but rewarding read about motherhood and literary forms. I found it hard to get through some of the more dry parts but other sections that involved more everyday observations appealed to me much more.

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The Long Form is a novel about the novel and also a novel about a day in the life of a woman with a new baby, combining literary criticism with a critique on caring structures and forming connections. Helen is on maternity leave, caring for her new baby Rose, and the copy of Henry Fielding's Tom Jones that she ordered online has just arrived. As the day progresses, she starts to read Tom Jones, and the narrative explores the story of Helen's day, of Tom Jones, and of the novel form.

This book is a fascinating mix of a highly literary style, bringing in literary criticism and stylistic digressions, with a very human narrative of a day in the life of a new parent, covering the sorts of large and small struggles that might not typically be in such a literary-reference-heavy novel. Despite the immediate style and the constant returning to the plot of Tom Jones as well as theorists on "the novel", The Long Form was surprisingly readable, building up a real sense of connection with Helen and Rose and the interplay between them and the texts referenced. The book ends with a list of referenced and relevant works, which is useful for people reading this without a particular background in literary criticism (the works aren't just about the novel form either - I noticed Full Surrogacy Now in there as well).

Aside from the literary criticism and references, the book also explores how one woman and one baby exist within society, and the kinds of security or lack of security that can bring. There's a particular focus on the roles of friendship and family, especially in terms of what is expected of someone with a new baby, and the snippets of Helen's friendship with Rebba were one of my favourite elements of the book, arguing for the importance of their relationship in their lives and suggesting how this might clash with society's idea of the hierarchy of human connections.

The Long Form surprised me with how much it could say and the way in which the different elements of it could be so well entwined. For some people, it might be too much of a literary experiment to be enjoyable as a novel, but as someone who did an English degree I appreciated how it managed to keep the literary criticism parts accessible within the novel itself, allowing the book to question what a novel is whilst also telling a compelling story.

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This is a very literary novel that takes its lead from theories of fiction, especially, though certainly not exclusively, from [author:Roland Barthes|13084], [author:Mikhail Bakhtin|3858028] and, to a lesser extent, [author:Gérard Genette|579933]. Briggs seems to be putting theory into practice in this book as she explores dynamics and dialogism around and between author, characters and reader.

At the same time, this probes those spaces and thresholds where theory shades into philosophy especially around issues of existence, consciousness, experience and responsibility, of how we 'read' narratives and discourses that are extra-textual.

[author:Henry Fielding|17501]'s [book:The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling|99329] is a marvellously apposite text to weave into this as the book that Helen is reading since it is a kind of 'postmodern' fiction from the eighteenth century (1749) and one of the earliest prose works to be designated a 'novel' in English literary history. Fielding uses some of the techniques that are part of the tool-kit of post-/modernist and contemporary writers: breaking through the fictionality of fiction, self-consciously addressing the reader and thinking about the reception of the text, expanding and contracting the representation of time, and questioning what are appropriate topics for fiction to express.

Briggs also takes a concern with the political from these theorists though she's more radical than the essentially conservative Fielding. She puts into play the Bakhtinian idea of existence as a form of dialogue and reaches out to the reader to play.

For all the stuff I loved, this is, ironically, too long (Barthes termed the novel 'the long form'). In challenging what makes up material for a novel - especially, perhaps, a female-authored novel - this, paradoxically, makes the mundane domesticity of caring for a baby, textually mundane (at least for me). At times, this felt like a very, very long form, indeed!

Nevertheless, Briggs is doing something intellectually dense here that I appreciated. At times this reminded me of Virginia Woolf 'doing' theory - though Woolf had a lighter touch. A challenging read, then, but also an exhilarating one - and one to read and then put back on the pile to re-read.

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Despite the deceptively-simple storyline, this is an intricate, ambitious merging of novel and essay. Kate Briggs follows Helen and her six-week-old baby Rose. Alone in a rented flat they’re bound together in a process of learning and sharing of experiences, sometimes in sync, sometimes each a mystery to the other. In a series of snatched moments, Kate removes herself from her immediate surroundings by immersing herself in a worn copy of Fielding’s classic The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling An interaction that also opens up a dialogue between Helen and Rose’s narrative and Fielding’s and then by extension the nature of the novel itself. An interrogation that links back to Briggs’s earlier work on translation and her thoughts on Barthes and the novel, or as he dubbed it, the long form. Elements of Briggs’s structuring of her ideas also reminded me of aspects of Barthes’s writing, particularly the ordered, yet fragmented, A Lover’s Discourse - further echoed in a sub-plot involving the delivery driver who carried Fielding’s novel to Helen’s door.

Through The Long Form Briggs interrogates the nature of representation, the ways that narrative might shape or be shaped by forms of knowledge and experience. She probes its machinery: how it might operate; be structured; what it might contain. As Rose and Helen map out space and time, over days spent in their ground-floor home, Briggs contrasts their experiences with the operations of the novel as form and object. She examines the novel – or rather the British, English-language novel – from a range of perspectives not least its interrelations with the book as material object, something that circulates in wider social and cultural contexts, bringing to mind Chartier and Genette and their ideas about reception and processes of reading, the myriad complex encounters between reader and text.

As much as Briggs is caught up in the nature, the limits, and the possibilities of fiction, she’s clearly invested too in issues about literary value and what stories are considered worthy of being told. This is made explicit by her focus on a narrowly-confined, “domestic” narrative. One that’s centred on care-giving, and notions of the maternal and the consciousness of a baby - the sorts of story and characters that’ve often been judged as peripheral or lacking gravity, all too often excluded from the canon of so-called "serious literature".

Briggs's book's a heavily referential, deeply thoughtful, analytical piece, a carefully-spun web of influences and ideas with a pronounced architectural quality. Briggs is in conversation here with literary theory, philosophy, and fiction - she helpfully includes an annotated list of her main sources of inspiration. She’s also very cleverly engaged in a process of making and remaking the “women’s novel” using it to gesture at wider social, aesthetic and ideological relations. I found this surprisingly compelling although for anyone, including me, who’s studied literary and/or cultural theory she’s often covering familiar ground. Her approach often felt fresh and thought-provoking but it could also feel overly-dense, sometimes stretched out and too reliant on the descriptive. I also liked the concept, which flows from Helen’s interaction with Fielding’s novel, of constructing an argument through juxtaposing and interweaving different genres, but it could also obscure the central points being put forward.

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