Sunday, September 23, 2007

Has Fiction Lost Its Power?

An article that slipped beneath my radar at the time (I must have been shamefully snoozing!), but which I came across this morning (researching other stuff) on author Indra Sinha's website (he, of course, of the current Booker shortlist and on whom I have much more to blog soon).*

Rod Liddle (left) wrote in the Times back in January how contemporary fiction just doesn't hit the spot for him anymore, and it seems to me that the article is very well worth going back to.
... it dawned on me (that) I hadn’t actually finished a novel, any novel, for some considerable time. I couldn’t even remember the name of the last new novel I’d finished. Somehow, fiction had lost its power to enthral or inform.

I immediately assumed that I was to blame, that I had become inured to the form itself and was no longer entranced by the act of immersing myself in someone else’s imagination. But a little later, it occurred to me that, frankly, there wasn’t an awful lot of imagination kicking around in contemporary fiction. It has become so broad, so general, so eager to please, so self-satisfied, so anxious to make itself relevant and attuned to the times, so shamelessly — and again, forgive me, I can think of no better phrase — middlebrow. In other words, exactly like journalism, except with some made-up names. And we have journalists for journalism, don’t we? Literary fiction, it seemed to me, had stopped doing what literary fiction does best: getting beneath the skin of a subject, to the viscera, without even always intending to so do. It had started being like every other form of mass entertainment, aiming wide and broad, hoping to alienate nobody.
Liddle blames the publishing industry for wanting:
... books with a big, thick, broad base and, preferably, an uplifting, aspirational motif ... Dark themes such as suicide are okay only if they’re dealt with in the friendly, accessible prose of a colour-supplement article about interior design or colonic irrigation. Leave out the overexuberant writing, what Steinbeck called the “hoop de doodle”; leave out literary devices that might unsettle the reader. Make it general — anything else we will deem to be a bit too much, self-indulgent.
It's a sure-fire recipe, he insists, for bad literature, and reckons that the truly great writing these days is to be found in the non-fiction section ... or in France where publishers have resisted the great literary dumbing-down of the British and US literary scenes.

If I don't add a comment of my own at the moment, it's because I'm mulling it over. Once the cogitation is done, I will chuck in a thought or two of my own. (A nice blogger get-out!) You of course are bound to be more erudite.

(*Sorry for the horrendous overuse of brackets in this sentence, stylistically unforgivable! :-D)


Elizabeth said...

This article came up a few years ago, but you might be interested.

bibliobibuli said...

thanks so much elizabeth - another excellent article i'd missed and will read carefully.

bibliobibuli said...

elizabeth - as a first thought it strikes me that liddle is talking far more about issues and content, myers much more about the mannered style and deliberate difficulty of many "literary" authors. i know my friend kaykay will be cheering in myer's corner if he happens along to read this discussion because this is where we tend to have our (fun) fights at our book club meets.

it's all part of the debate about what is the novel meant to be and do (if it is meant to be and do anything other than entertain).

as with the other article, need some digestion time! (26 pages this one and i have to print it out to read 'cos i can't concentrate on screen)

hope your course is going well and i really do appreciate a buddy who can throw interesting issues back at me

Anonymous said...

(*Sorry for the horrendous overuse of brackets in this sentence, stylistically unforgivable! :-D)

- Oh no! I am (stylistically) unforgiven :-P

Starmandala said...

I met Rod Liddle quite by chance in Langkawi in June and we had a nice natter by his hotel pool. He's a quintessential writer - sharp of wit, worldly wise, and oozing effortless charm. And he's married to one of the prettiest women any wordsmith with a rakish rep would ever want to go on a 3-month vacation with. A mutual friend gave me Liddle's first novel - "Too Beautiful For You"(2003) - and I was utterly won over by his masterful prose, diabolical sense of humour, and acute peripheral vision. Indeed, I'd say that my close encounter with Rod Liddle had the same sense of felicitousness I might have felt chatting with someone like Anthony Burgess or Sam Clemens (better known as Mark Twain). However, I found Liddle's Islamophobic stance particularly perturbing (he wrote an opinion piece in The Sunday Times advocating a pre-emptive strike on Iran which made me gag), the more so because he comes across as such a lucid intellect that his views are bound to be extremely influential. So I wrote him a long email about my concerns - indeed, it seems like far too many columnists with clout in Britain have succumbed to the systematic indoctrination codenamed 'The Clash of Civilizations.' Well, I'm still hoping Rod will eventually respond...

KayKay said...

Sharon, I have read every word of the Myers article (slow day at work) and the man is already my hero. I'm going to print out the article and fucking frame it! Or better still bring it along to our future book readings and read out choice pieces from it whenever someone hyper ventilates with orgasmic delight over some pretentiously written dreck like

"Blue can only surmise what the case is not. To say what it is, however, is completely beyond him" (Ghosts, Paul Auster)


"A thriller must thrill or it is worthless; this is as true now as it ever was. Today's "literary" novel, on the other hand, need only evince a few quotable passages to be guaranteed at least a lukewarm review"

How true!

"How better to ensure that Faulkner and Melville remain unread by the young than to invoke their names in praise of some new bore every week?"

Amen, brother!

The article is required reading for everyone, whether you agree with the writer's opinions or not. And a special thank you to Elizabeth for bringing it to our attention