Bland new prose

Not sure how many of you saw this a few weeks ago (surely a sign of how behind in my online reading I am):,2101-2539779,00.html

Interesting read, in that it takes most of the artice to determine whether or not you agree :slight_smile:


Yes, I read this article when it appeared in the Sunday Times. I liked it, though I found it somewhat snobbish. I do actually like Liddle, though. He presented a Channel 4 program recently called “The Trouble with Atheism”. That was pretty good too. As a born-again atheist myself, I appreciated his rational call for people to respect each other’s beliefs. (Of course, he’s still wrong. :slight_smile: ) In contrast, I found this article more, “I’m right, you’re wrong” in tone. What’s interesting is that such writers forget that there is a lot more interesting writing out there than just mainstream literary fiction. What about what Kurt Vonnegut has been doing all his life, including in the past 20 years? Or Alessandro Baricco (I should look up the spelling), Haruki Murakami and so on? There is a lot of challenging, humane and brilliant writing going on. The trouble is that too many people writing for the Times - especially the Times in fact; they refuse to review sf, for instance - recognise little outside of the Julian Barneses and Ian McEwans of this world (both of whom, notably, wrote their best books - A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters and The Cement Garden - before they became part of the British literary establishment).

So, John Updike wrote a bad novel. So what? Most writers end up writing past their prime and thus churning out toss that is below par. Is that a sign that the Novel is Dead? Of course not. It’s a sign that John Updike wrote a bad novel, that’s all. Some of the most amazing ideas I came across recently were in a book of science fiction stories by a guy called Ted Chang (sp? again), and he’s younger than I am. Just because the oldies aren’t churning out Great Novels any more, it does not mean that the novel is in crisis; only that those guys are getting old and others have yet to be embraced - and ruined - by the establishment.

As for his complaint that there is “nothing much” in Britain in the way of great writing - b*lox. There are a lot of good, young writers out there. Frankly, I was always gutted that Rachel Cusk never wrote a novel quite as great as her potential talent, for instance (though I still love Saving Agnes). The Jane Austen comparisons were not unwarranted…

Anyway, blah blah blah. Too prolix.


Yeah, I had a similar reaction – interesting article, but what exactly is this guy reading?

Granted, some of the more out-there fiction can be a bit unpolished (Stewart Home), and some of the newer authors a bit derivative (M John Harrison), but the British novel is hardly dead.

I think he is correct, though, in his insinuation that bland, inoffensive writing is what publishers – and by extension, their editors – are intent on forcing us to read.

Viva la small press, or something :wink:

Of course I’m drunk too by now. Wine and cooking go together.

I think it’s possible for a form to be mostly dead yet show signs of life. Like theatre, I think the novel is on life support, but likely to remain so for a long time. Both forms are at that stage where it’s adapt or wither away. And by adapt I don’t mean try to copy the other forms, become more like TV or the Net, but do what the others can’t do.


M. John Harrison started publishing in the late 1960’s! he only got to get well-known in the last ten and especially five years. before that, just some obscure sf/fantasy writer. (I remember my surprise, around ten years ago when Clive Barker mentioned him favorably in one of his interviews.) also, not to put you on the spot, but what do you find derivative about his work?

(as you can guess, I rate M. John as one of my favorite writers.)

also, KB, you must have meant Ted Chiang.