Posted by: Corri van de Stege | July 4, 2010

Food for thought and writing

The Sunday Times no longer allows access on line (neither does the Times for that matter).  Murdoch has decided to charge.  Fortunately not all papers follow suit and so the Observer / Guardian continue to have free internet access to their news stories. 

One interesting story is that by Vanessa Thorpe in the main news section: Literary storm rages as critic Lee Siegel pronounces the American novel dead.    Apparently, Siegel has declared that the novel has lost its spark for ever.  This, he says, has become apparent from the mere fact that literary analyses have become so very top-heavy.  Critics disagree, Siegel is simply dismissive of anything to do with book blogs, genre fiction etc.  However, the  undercurrent suggestion about the state of fiction and genre writing is one to be taken seriously.

In the Culture Section of the Sunday Times (and unfortunately I cannot provide a link for reasons mentioned above), Robert Collins wonders if Tom McCarthy is the future of fiction.  McCarthy’s third novel, C, will be published in August and he is viewed as writer with a new and ‘refreshing’ approach to fiction.  His first books were all turned down by English publishers and eventually a Paris-based art publisher printed a limited edition of his book ‘Remainder’.  I have not read any of his work, but the gist of this article is the same as the one in the Observer:  fiction writing needs to be approached differently for it to have have a future.  A number of novelists have similar doubts: ‘This year alone, Chinua Achebe, Jonathan Safran Foer, Siri Hustved and Rupert Thomson [all] have published nonfictin debuts.’

McCarthy has never even read anything by contemporary novelists such as McEwan or Mitchell, rather he builds on or plugs into non-British influences such as Derrida, Baudrillard, Heidegger, Rilke etc.  He is both an artist and a novelist.    The suggestion is that this is a ‘radically fresh prospect for the future of the novel….. he has instinctively ignored contemporary literature almost completely.’

Time to get hold of some of his books – forget about all the creative writing courses and the formulaic approaches to writing a novel: plot, character development, voices, etc.  Rather, what McCarthy does apparently is plug literature into other literature and he recombines what’s there into a remix, like a DJ…

Food for thought and writing?


  1. Seems like a lot of the “new” art (music and fashion, at least) also derives from what they call “mash up” which takes pieces of things and puts it together for a new version. I get it, with music, sometimes with fashion. Egads, also now with writing? OK, well, I’m open-minded. If it works.

    BTW, I took CLOUD ATLAS out of the library and realize by page 3 that i need to own this book rather than borrow it. There was no way I wanted to feel rushed about reading it. And, I loved the first pages, too, so it’s now on my Amazon wish list as a reminder of “book to purchase.” Again, thanks for that one!

  2. I have stopped buying The Times in protest – not that they will notice. I am now happily reading The Guardian and The Observer and find their books sections are much better anyway – and I can follow up on the website.

    I think the great American novel died sometime ago – perhaps destroyed on the Bonfire of the Vanities. Fortunately there are plenty of great European novels to fill the gap!

  3. Oh – definitely, you need to own Cloud Atlas – I read it twice so far and probably will pick it up again some time. As far as mixing and matching is concerned – let’s keep this space open 🙂 I do still so enjoy the likes of David Mitchell but then, yeah I sometimes get a bit tired of formula writing….
    Tom – I so agree about good book reviews in the Observer – just love the new review, don’t you? But then I do also quite like the Culture section of the Sunday Times (I’ve long given up on The Times). I think that once I’ve paid for the hard copy I should have free access to the digital version though…….

  4. […] Great expectations: after much debate about whether American fiction is dead (see also my food for thought post in early June) Jonathan Franzen’s new book Freedom is about to be published.   Why is […]

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