Sunday, 4 May 2014

Is the literary novel dead - Time for a Selfie Will?

photo from the

According to Will Self, novelist and professor of words no-one has ever heard of, the literary novel is dead ( The Guardian ).  As a fledgling writer of fiction I find his lack of faith disturbing.

I recently went to a lecture delivered by the head of fiction at a publishing house famous for its literary fiction. She held up a copy of an early Julian Barnes book and said if this was written today it wouldn’t be published.  It wasn't because of the content but because of the prose style.

Tastes have changed.  It’s not the literary novel that’s dead just the challenging style of prose they’re written in.  Have you tried reading Ulysses recently? Or for that matter the Will Self piece in The Guardian.  Ideas in literature can be as interesting and challenging as ever but it’s surely the job of great writers to present those ideas in a way that is contemporary and above all understandable. 

Will Self reveals a little of himself by his attitude towards Twitter. He has nearly 50,000 followers – people who chose to listen to what he has to say. But he follows not a single person.  He wants people to listen to him but isn’t interested in returning the favour. 

Surely any writer, even one as well known as Self, who only wants to listen to his own voice is asking for trouble. Writers are communicators. I know I’m only a rookie but isn’t communication supposed to be a two way thing?  Is it any wonder that he feels the literary novel is dead. If he made his prose style even just a little more accessible, maybe more people would be able to understand his challenging ideas. 

The grubby truth is that whether writers like it or not, writing is a business – you produce something that is for sale...and no business survives without listening to its market.   

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