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