Sunday, May 28, 2006

The State of the Novel

Robert McCrum in yesterday's Observer asks if the British novel has lost its way as money and celebrity and awards are thrown at it:
Out of a swamp of greed, ambition and creative writing crawled a new Gollum, the 'Booker novel', trailing the slime of self-promotion. This, typically, was a scarcely readable work of the imagination, devoid of narrative, character, plausible landscape or moral purpose, whose sole motivation was the desire to get on to that fabled shortlist. There was a boom in second-rate literary fiction, most of it now recycled into wallpaper and toilet tissue. Each year publishers began to bet ever more absurd sums on 'Booker novels' in the hopes of hitting the jackpot.
There's plenty of food for thought here, and McCrum gives an excellent history of the changing fortunes of the novel in Britain over time.

Now maybe I just haven't read enough beyond award lists recently (and even trying to keep up with the longlists and shortlists is a nightmare for this not terribly fast reader) ... but I've thoroughly enjoyed the contemporary fiction I've picked up recently and it's seemed to me that the novel is in pretty good shape.

I wonder which novels McCrum is thinking of when he talks of "scarcely readable works". His list of 20 all-time great Booker winners is very telling - John Banville's The Sea is so pointedly absent, as is Yann Martell's The Life of Pi ...

On the other side of the Atlantic, debate about the best American novel of the last 25 years (see my previous post on this) hots up with an online discussion between prominent authors and critics on the New York Times website about the books that made the list and about the state of US fiction in general.

There's quite a few more titles here for Animah's list too!

(Illustration nicked from the British Council's website)

Related Post

The Novel is Dead, Long Live the Novel (18/9/05)


Krishna said...

Dear Sharon,as always your blog entries are delicious food for thought. And Robert McCrum's article is an excellent piece that brings to light some potent truths.

While I don't quite subscribe to his overwrought and dystopian view of the British novel having suffered in the race to produce the Next Big Literary Prize Winner and becoming a "scarcely readable work of the imagination, devoid of narrative, character, plausible landscape or moral purpose", I do have some of his misgivings of books being written for the sole purpose of clinching the coveted Booker or to enter every critics "Top Books You Must Read This Year" list. When did it become wrong to write solely so you engage the mind, stir emotions or even,Heaven Forbid, to entertain? How many smaller books recommended by a friend because it truly resonated with them end up unread in favour of ones that are dressed up,coiffed,made up,air-brushed and elevated to MUST READS because they won a Booker/Whitbread/Orange and it's writer graced the halls of Hay, Edinburgh and Buxton and will be on Oprah next week? I for one hope that for the vast majority of readers out there, the most valuable thing about a book will be what lies within it's pages and not the round,white sticker on the upper left corner of it's cover that says "Richard And Judy's Book Of the Month".

bibliobibuli said...

haha! as soon as i read McCrum's article i knew it'd appeal to you ... you guys would get on fabulously down the pub together ...

very nicely said, anyway, though i still like my booker/whitbread/orange reads ...