What does literature know? Does it offer us knowledge of its own or does it only interrupt and question other forms of knowledge? This book seeks to answer and to prolong these questions through the close examination of individual works and the exploration of a broad array of examples. Chapters on Henry James, Kafka, and the form of the villanelle are interspersed with wider-ranging inquiries into forms of irony, indirection and the uses of fiction, with examples ranging from Auden to Proust and Rilke, and from Calvino to Jean Rhys and Yeats. Literature is a form of pretence. But every pretence could tilt us into the real, and many of them do. There is no safe place for the reader: no literalist's haven where fact is always fact; and no paradise of metaphor, where our poems, plays and novels have no truck at all with the harsh and shifting world.