After finishing my senior thesis on Russian opera last week, I was relieved to have the chance to read something that was in English and didn’t have a meter. For a break, I turned to Marie NDiaye’s novel Three Strong Women (originally published in French as Trois femmes puissantes), a gift that had been sitting on my shelf for months while the wildly unrealistic chapter deadlines I imposed on myself came and went. When I finally starting reading, the wait turned out to have been well worth it.
I’m still engrossed in NDiaye’s novel, but while flipping through it, I was also struck by the collection of blurbs in the book’s front matter. Together, the blurbs, each only a few sentences long, present a unified thesis: NDiaye is a talented writer and anyone reading the blurbs should buy the book (they were selected, after all, by the novel’s publisher). Many of the blurbs reiterate the overall thesis in some form—”A writer of the highest caliber,” “A great read”—but each one also offers a unique piece of evidence in support of that thesis. Different reviewers refer to NDiaye’s “clearsightedness,” “willingness to broach essential subjects” (New York Times), “range,” “precision” (Guardian), “impressive forensic detail (Independent), and more.
The choice and arrangement of the blurbs mirror the structure of an academic paper. The publisher of Three Strong Women clearly scoured reviews from around the globe, identified useful excerpts, and arranged them carefully to support the overarching thesis, tying each piece of evidence back in to the overarching argument. Likewise, after doing research, selecting evidence, and articulating a thesis, a writer arranges her evidence in support of that thesis, always making sure that the value of each piece of evidence is clear. It helps if your thesis is as compelling as that of NDiaye’s publisher, but whether you’re promoting an excellent novel or trying to structure your D1, the essential process is the same.
– Rosamond van Wingerden, ’21