Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Decline of the Novel

It’s not a question of being a literary snob. I am sure that plenty of highbrow types scout the latest in contemporary fiction and dissect the latest fads in prose.

But nobody writes a novel the way they used to. I spent hours of pleasure reading the classics of the 19th and early 20th century – Thomas Hardy, Dickens, the Brontes. Besides English literature I have taken great pleasure in Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, alongside the works of Emile Zola. Nothing beats the great American novel written by John Steinbeck.

The description these novels gave could transport you back to the English countryside in the mid 19th century, or the slums of London or Paris. Or California at the turn of the century. Or the lives of the Russian aristocracy. Dostoyevsky’s characters were the most complex in literature, extreme yet so human.

What has happened? I don’t mean to knock all modern fiction, indeed some of it I find witty and entertaining at times. But the description is not there, neither are the characters so rounded. There are a few exceptions but I can count them on fewer fingers than I can the great classics. Surely the format of the novel hasn’t really exhausted itself so, as is sometimes claimed? Why do they no longer write books the way they were once written?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When is the last time you read a work of fiction that was the product of several years' effort? Today's authors are expected to pound out a book a year or more.