Thank you to everyone who entered the emagazine Close Reading Competition 2018. We received more entries than ever, with many students writing confident, interesting and convincing analyses of the passage. We enjoyed reading them all and were impressed by the range of subtle readings. All those students who have been commended wrote fresh personal responses to the passage, balancing an overview with more detailed analysis and developing a line of argument.
Professor John Mullan, judge of the competition, said of the shortlisted entries:
The best responses managed to do justice to a lengthy passage in a short space by recognising its pattern of contrasts and parallels. It was a pleasure to find young critics who understood that narrative prose, like poetry, can have rhythms and echoes. Several also managed to remember that this was a passage from a novel, setting up tensions and uncertainties in the reader’s mind that will later have to be resolved. One small observation: no one commented on the fact that this narrative is written in the present tense. Perhaps present tense novels are becoming the norm?
Barbara Bleiman, one of the editors of emagazine, said of the whole collection of entries:
We were delighted to see so many high quality entries, engaging with the extract with enthusiasm and energy and aiming for an authentic personal reading. The best of the entries had a clear sense of how the text worked as narrative. They tried to make sense of the contrasts and parallels set up by the writer in presenting a world and a set of characters to the reader at a very early stage in the novel. These students did this without trying to skate around complexities, over-simplify, or avoid pinning down what they thought the writer might be trying to achieve.
As in previous years, the judges were not impressed by the use of technical literary vocabulary used incorrectly, for its own sake, or as an alternative to having really clear, interesting ideas about the text. Words like connotes, infers, juxtaposes, parataxis, pathetic fallacy, semantic field were all widely used but not always to good effect. It was a great relief when students used the word ‘juxtapose’ to genuinely reveal something about the contrasts and oppositions set up between the two main characters and their worlds.
The best responses explored the ‘big picture’ ways in which the text worked – its structure, voice and fluctuating points of view, its setting up of characters and their worlds and the reasons for ‘juxtaposing’ these in the way that the author does, moving back and forth between them. Less successful were the attempts to mine the text for individual words which were then defined, explained and analysed in detail but without contributing to any significant point about the text and how the words contributed to that.
In general, as with writing critically for exams, we were most impressed by writing that didn’t seek to impress, but did make really interesting points, and make them directly and clearly. There were plenty of occasions when a student’s insights made us think freshly about the text and see something we hadn’t seen before – an idea they’d had about the text that was valid and justifiable but quite original. That was a huge pleasure!