Review: Wonderworks by Angus Fletcher

Title: Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature

Author: Angus Fletcher

Published: 9th March 2021, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read March 2021 courtesy Simon & Schuster/ Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

“It was barely sunrise. Yet even in the faint, rose-fingered light, there could be no doubt: the invention was a marvel. It could mend cracks in the heart and resurrect hope from the dark. It could summon up raptures and impossible days. It could chase away dullness and unlatch the sky. The invention was literature. And to catch its marvel for ourselves, let’s return to that dawn. Let’s learn the story of why literature was invented. And all the things it was invented to do.”

Angus Fletcher explains twenty five ‘inventions’ that underpin the appeal of literature in Wonderworks.

Stories have many purposes and Fletcher proposes thot these have evolved over time as authors have discovered techniques, from the plot twist to the happy ever after ending, for eliciting specific emotions and reactions from their audience. The emerging field of story science explains how different types of narratives, from thrillers to satire, have been proven to stimulate different areas of our brain and have the ability to affect our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviour. Stories can not only educate, they can also encourage the development of empathy, alleviate depression, inspire creativity, and improve self-awareness.

In each chapter of Wonderworks, Fletcher examines a invention of literature, relating its history, and often that of its ‘inventor’, provides examples, and explores how and why the technique resonates with us as revealed by modern neuroscience. I thought Fletcher offered some astute insights, though much confirms what avid readers instinctively know about the power of all types of fiction has to enrich our lives.

“For whatever the power of truth may be, literature’s own special power has always lain in fiction, that wonder we construct. It is the invention that unbreaks the heart. And brings us into hope, and peace, and love.”

There is, as necessary, some jargon to contend with but Fletcher embraces the style of nonfiction narrative so Wonderworks is rarely dry. It can be dense however and, in my opinion, occasionally veers into the pretentious, so I found it difficult to read in one sitting. I think enthusiasm for Wonderworks will be higher among those interested in literary analysis and study, students of psychology, philosophers, and writers looking to hone their craft, but it does have value for the simply curious.

Wonderworks provides a way to understand literature that moves beyond its construction and practicalities. It’s an interesting and thought-provoking study of narrative and the significance of fiction to both individuals and society.

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