Tuesday, September 01, 2009

CONF 602: IDENTITY

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August without a holiday in it anywhere was a new experience and I didn't like it much. I did have a week without writing though, and stayed away from the internet (mostly) which has cleared the mind if not the itchy feet.

I think my main frustration is identity. Am I a writer or am I not a writer? OK, full-time writer. Of which there are, as we all know, very, very few who earn their way. So it's not quite that. If writing was a sideline to the rest of my working life there'd be frustrations all over the place, of course there would, but not the bigger question of what I'm going to do with myself. As it is I'm neither one or the other. I haven't got the resources to write another book without a commission, not until I retire anyhow. What I am going to do is work intensively over the next few weeks firming up the characters and plot of the next novel. I shall send this to my agent with a one page synopsis and 3 sample chapters in mid-September, good time for October's Frankfurt Book Fair, and tie my fingers in knots once more.

On the wider subject of identity, was so pleased to see Lev Grossman's Wall Street Journal article on the future of the novel which has been doing the rounds of the authors on Twitter these past few days. At the moment am reading One Day by David Nicholls which is very contemporary, very, very funny and, if it had been written by a woman would without a doubt have a very different cover from the gorgeous, embossed, serious-looking clothback hardback and be on every supermarket shelf in the land.

The novel is finally waking up from its 100-year carbonite nap. Old hierarchies of taste are collapsing. Genres are hybridizing. The balance of power is swinging from the writer back to the reader, and compromises with the public taste are being struck all over the place. Lyricism is on the wane, and suspense and humor and pacing are shedding their stigmas and taking their place as the core literary technologies of the 21st century.

From a hieratic, hermetic art object the novel is blooming into something more casual and open: a literature of pleasure. The critics will have to catch up. This new breed of novel resists interpretation, but not the way the Modernists did. These books require a different set of tools, and a basic belief that plot and literary intelligence aren't mutually exclusive.

In fact the true postmodern novel is here, hiding in plain sight. We just haven't noticed it because we're looking in the wrong aisle. We were trained—by the Modernists, who else—to expect a literary revolution to be a revolution of the avant-garde: typographically altered, grammatically shattered, rhetorically obscure. Difficult, in a word. This is different. It's a revolution from below, up from the supermarket racks.

Lev Grossman, Wall Street Journal, 29.8.09

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

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