Monday, 24 September 2007

Death of the Author?


So, the end of the literary novel is at hand. Can't say I'm greatly upset. "Literary" fiction has always been, for me, a by-word for boring, pretentious flab, and I can honestly say that the only "literary" writers still active today who I genuinely admire are Milan Kundera and Donna Tartt. Non-genre fiction has not been interesting or attractive since the 1950's, when it lost its ambition to speak about the human condition and started instead to contrive ways to offend, shock and intrigue in order to sell.

The Daily Telegraph's discovery that Jordan, the topless model, has sold more copies of her 'novel' Crystal than the entire Man Booker Prize shortlist then, should not come as a surprise - because nobody wants to read boring, pretentious flab. In fact, without the help of old "literary" fiction stalwart Ian McEwan, whose On Chesil Beach sold 110,000 copies, the entire shortlist of five books would have managed just 10,000 sales between them - only 6% of the total achieved by Crystal (300,000):


That Ian McEwan sells well should, in my view, signify the death-knell for the genre anyway, because: a) McEwan is an awful, awful writer - a turgid stylist with idiotic plots - and is bound to turn more and more readers off "literary" fiction for good, and b) because his success is symbolic of the tendency amongst book reviewers to believe a book is good just because it's written by a well known writer who tells them that it's good - and that tendency can only result in ruin.

I'm not greatly worried. In fact, fiction sales in the UK increase year after year (from 51 million in 2001 to 70 million in 2006), because the genres are in rude health - and, as should be evident to just about anybody who reads widely across different genres, the best writers around nowadays write genre fiction: Ian Rankin, Henning Mankell and Barbara Vine in crime; M. John Harrison, Gene Wolfe and George R. R. Martin in fantasy; William Gibson and Dan Simmons in science fiction; John le Carre in thrillers. Real writers, in other words - the ones who write good, stylish prose about interesting stories involving interesting characters, which also somehow manage to tell us something about ourselves. What "literary" fiction used to do in the days of Graham Greene, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.

So hooray for Jordan, and hooray for one day not having to listen to people raving about Ian McEwan. And maybe next year's Man Booker shortlist will include books that people actually want to read.

2 comments:

Amanda said...

I've tried several times to read those modern 'literary' fiction but always get disappointed. They always try too hard and end up with a boring dry waste of time novel. I'd go with the Jordan book too if I had known about it.

zero_zero_one said...

At least I now have some idea of what to get you for Christmas...

I've tried a couple of books which would fall under the "literary fiction" banner, but for the most part I steer clear of them; mainly because whenever I pick up a book the synopsis on the back seems so deathly dull...