Monday, October 08, 2007

Death of the Novel - Wright

The Globe and Mail review section reported recently on the poor sales Booker fiction nominees have garnered. For the last few years we’ve been hearing much about ‘the death of the novel’. Could it be true? Probably not, given the phenomenal sales of the Harry Potter series and The Da Vinci Code.

Perhaps the reading public is just weary of ploughing through books trumpeted by literary critics. Readers have told me lately of their disillusionment with many modern novels. When queried further they often point out what caused them to let their current reading projects gather dust. They often turn their guns on ‘literary fiction’.

Many complain of trying to keep track of too many characters. Some writers introduce a plethora of people right in the first few chapters. Other novelists bring in a new character in every chapter, or in alternate chapters. Readers have to keep going back to check on who was who. Confusion results.

Other readers express disillusionment with the prevalence of dark stories. Tales of child abuse and rape. Bullying. Wildly dysfunctional families. Serial killers galore. Small towns hiding terrible secrets. Are there no ‘normal’ people left on planet earth, normal but interesting? True, evil exists. But . . .

In an attempt to gain a following, many of today’s novelists seem to be ever on the search for some novel literary device—as if there was anything new under the sun. Many stories project complicated flashbacks, changes of scene or point of view. Where are the stories of one main protagonist that move from A to Z in a linear progression?

What about unbelievable scenarios? The antagonist with a scheme to blast the earth out of orbit, or threaten the globe with some new pandemic. The discovery of some deadly new weapon or the release of some ghastly animal mutation. Then there are the novelists who posit some revolutionary discovery that proves that Jesus never existed, that the Christian faith is based on a lie or that the Vatican hides deadly secrets. Far fetched plots have become too legion to be novel.

Other readers complain that too many novels have no redemptive element. They are not just looking for the traditional fairy tale ending, but at least some change, some growth in the characters.

Then again, there are all the edgy novels that press the boundaries of good taste. Insisting on reality, these writers pour into their depictions anything that is thought by polite society as gross. Eroticism runs wild. Swearing abounds.

Have I heard readers right? Obviously a great variety of tastes in literature exist. But personally, I believe that the novel is not dead but slumbering awaiting those writers who will give us good old fashioned stories again.

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