Sunday, December 4, 2011

Review of the Day: The Hair of Harold Roux

Thomas Williams won the 1975 National Book Award for The Hair of Harold Roux, a novel within a novel about balancing a writer's creative impulse with the domestic needs of family life. Specifically, Williams wrote a novel about a college professor writing a semi-autobiographical novel about a college student writing a novel about a man who wrote a novel.

It sounds more confusing – and more experimental – than it is. Williams uses this nested structure to ponder big issues like love, fame, violence, responsibility, and madness, and fills in the spaces with anecdote, humor, and astute observations. But the story rattles right along and makes perfect sense as it goes.

The main story takes place over two days, as professor Aaron Benham struggles to write his novel while his family is out of town without him.  Telephone calls, a friend in trouble, guest teaching a creative writing seminar, a motorcycle crash, memories of old loves, current flirtations, and a faculty meeting distract him from his work.  The short story he reads the seminar students, memories of a long fairy tale he told his children, the first chapter of a novel by Harold Roux (the toupee-wearing character in his novel), and other stories deviate from the plot, but, along with the plot of his novel, combine to tell a full story of Aaron's closely examined life.

Williams is an incredible writer. This is a first-rate novel that deserves a wider audience. Kudos to Bloomsbury USA for reprinting it.


If you would like your review of this book listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.


I got my copy from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.  It counts as one of the two National Winners I am reading for the Battle of the Prizes, American Version, Challenge.


  1. Good grief, Charlie Brown, this sounds awfully confusing. I can't imagine how he manages to tell such a story in a way that makes sense. I'll take your word for it that it does. I think this one will be a "maybe" on my lengthy list.

  2. Barbara: It was amazing how much he packed into the book (all I could do was make lists), but it was still very readable and very entertaining. Not confusing at all, even though it jumped around.

  3. It sounds kind of awesome. National Book Award, but not in the MCPL collection. Weird.

  4. Michael: That is weird! It's been out of print, but you would think they would get a copy of the new edition. National winners would seem to merit some shelf space!


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