The article is already nearly a decade old, but we are obviously still in the thick of it:
Thank you Amber. I was unaware of this article. I wholeheartedly agree.
Fascinating, although I was a little disappointed by the inevitable direction it took. It began by hinting at how there are authors working in the genres today who write intelligently but who are sidelined by the literati in favour of smoke-blowing, puffed up pretentious literature. I was hoping that by the end of the article the author would return to this theme and highlight some examples of good writing in the genres, contrasting the “workmanlike prose”, as it has been disparaged, with some of the purple prose quoted throughout. Unfortunately the whole thing headed toward the somewhat trite and boring conclusion, “read the classics”; “no one writes like they used to…” It thus descends into nostalgia and becomes as guilty of patronising the reader as the authors he criticises.
(Of course, I quite liked The Shipping News and McCarthy’s The Road, so what do I know?)
I do agree with the basic premise though, that the modern idea of the “literary” is somewhat stifling, something perpetuated by broadsheet reviewers. The Booker lists, for instance, just make me want to groan. “Literary” is more and more becoming a byword for “overwritten with no story”. But then, is that a new thing? The writers the author of that article holds up as exemplars - James and Proust - seem, to me, to defeat his argument a little, as I find them rather overblown too, although the Bellow passage does put the others to shame. He is, of course, absolutely right that just because something is contemporary, it does not automatically make it more relevant, and our reading would be impoverished if we only read modern novels. It is quite natural that many of our favourite novels will have been written before we were born. But when the author concluded by pointing the reader to books of the past as an antidote to modern literature rather than towards good examples of modern literature that were being unfairly dismissed as non-literary, I felt rather patronised.
Fortunately, there are still some recent beautifully written novels, whether literary or not - last year’s What Was Lost, for instance, springs immediately to mind. I just wish the author of that article had moved beyond tearing apart examples of the prose he hates to discuss some of the good writing being produced on the margins.
Thanks for the hint to “What Was Lost”. I immediately ordered it after reading your hint and a few reviews