Is today's fiction irrelevant?
The blogosphere debates: Are today's novels merely clever where they should be deep?
Earlier this summer, the American novel was whisked into a retirement home by cultural critic Lee Siegel in an essay in The New York Observer, titled “Where Have All the Mailers Gone?”
“Fiction has become culturally irrelevant,” he wrote in a line that launched a thousand blogs.
Umm. Good to know. I'll just empty my shelves, shall I?
I can name any number of writers – Lorrie Moore, Marilynne Robinson, E.L. Doctorow, Richard Russo – whose work I prefer to Mailer, who in addition to his great books, also left behind a few stinkers. (I know. I've read “Ancient Evenings.”)
Now, a British academic is calling out the “greats” of modern British literature – Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, and Julian Barnes – and declaring that they barely pass muster as mediocres. (Hopefully Canada, Australia, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales have critics standing by, so that we can pooh-pooh all literature written in English by the end of the calendar year.)
"We are in a very fallow period," Gabriel Josipovici said in The Guardian Wednesday, calling the contemporary English novel "profoundly disappointing – a poor relation of its ground-breaking modernist forebears.”
Josipovici calls the lot of literary lions “prep schoolboys showing off” and claims they're arrogant and self-satisfied. (Also successful, but I digress.) While going easier on Americans, Josipovici reaches across the pond to poke Philip Roth in the nose.
So, what's his definition of a good book? “Tristram Shandy” by Laurence Sterne, which he declares more “avant garde than the so-called avant garde.”
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