In The Art of Revision: The Last Word, Peter Ho Davies takes up an often discussed yet frequently misunderstood subject. He begins by addressing the invisibility of revision—even though it’s an essential part of the writing process, readers typically only see a final draft, leaving the practice shrouded in mystery. To combat this, Davies pulls examples from his novels The Welsh Girl and The Fortunes, as well as from the work of other writers, including Flannery O’Connor, Carmen Maria Machado, and Raymond Carver, shedding light on this slippery subject.
Davies also looks beyond literature to work that has been adapted or rewritten, such as books made into films, stories rewritten by another author, and the practice of retconning in comics and film. In an affecting frame story, Davies recounts the story of a violent encounter in his youth, which he then retells over the years, culminating in a final telling at the funeral of his father. In this way, the book arrives at an exhilarating mode of thinking about revision—that it is the writer who must change, as well as the writing. The result is a book that is as useful as it is moving, one that asks writers to reflect upon themselves and their writing.