QUADRIVIUM

Have you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head?

What’s wrong with the modern novel?

with 2 comments

Two bloggers at the Telegraph decide to take on that question (H/T: Breakpoint). 

You can read a lot of novels nowadays that are perfectly good – there’s nothing particularly wrong with them. But there’s also nothing particularly right with them, either.

[…]

I’d still probably slog through 500 pages of hype-inflated, prize-laden pretentiousness about a lesbian commune in 1930s Cork than the stuff that really sells today: Brown and Meyer. Have you any idea why they do so well? I’m not against bestsellers by any means: Stephen King can write, or so I thought when I last read him, i.e. at about the age of 15. But, dear Lord, surely even during the wrong-headed fug of adolescence I wouldn’t have fallen for The Da Vinci Code or Twilight.

Fair enough.  I won’t argue at all about the merits of Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer.  If you look at the quality of writing between, say, The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, and The Firm by John Grisham, there’s a measureable difference. 

Still, certain bestselling authors, like Orson Scott Card or J. K. Rowling, have managed to move me at least as much the sophisticated literary work of, say, Cormac McCarthy.   Even some of Stephen King’s prose manages to rise above the junk food metaphors critics typically wield to strike him down. 

There’s something Anton Ego says at the end of Ratatouille.  “The bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”  So I had to smile when one of the Telegraph bloggers manages a refreshing moment of honesty:

I suppose in the end though it’s the height of idleness to complain about the standard of modern novels – after all, if I dislike them so much, there’s nothing to stop me writing one of my own. The trouble with doing that, of course, is that I would soon discover that novelists have a far harder job than I’ve given them credit for in this discussion, and so I’d have to relinquish my sniping prejudices and admit that the current lot – Christ, perhaps even Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer – aren’t so bad after all. And there’s nothing that horrifies a blogger more than the thought of having to relinquish his sniping prejudices. Hell, they’re all we’ve got.

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Written by taj

August 11, 2010 at 11:13 am

Posted in General

Tagged with ,

2 Responses

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  1. Actually, I’ll risk impalement by the literati by stating now that I think Stephen King is a better writer than Cormac McCarthy.

    King, when he’s on his game, can pack a piece with real emotion (ie “Bag of Bones”). McCarthy I simply find pretentious. His writing is more style than substance . . . of course, to each his/her own.

    As for Dan Brown . . . “The Lost Key” is one of the most awful books I’ve ever read!

    simonreadbooks

    August 11, 2010 at 4:26 pm

  2. Please don’t think you’ll ever face impalement here. You’re certainly not alone in your opinion of McCarthy. I haven’t read enough of his work to really decide, though I enjoyed THE ROAD very much.

    Interesting word you used there — “literati.” I can’t remember if I first saw that word in ON WRITING (Stepehen King) or a book Tom Shippey wrote on JRR Tolkien called AUTHOR OF THE CENTURY. Both are excellent. Hvae you read either?

    taj

    August 12, 2010 at 7:54 am


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