It’s not just me. I’m not being unnecessarily curmudgeon-y, if you please. I’ve long been bemoaning the abandonment of story – even the implied story – in literary fiction, but there are larger voices than mine saying it now. A recent article in Britain’s New Statesman, wonders at the dwindling of literary fiction among readers. Writers making a living at writing are down from 40% to 11% in 2013, admittedly a shrinking time noted as we glance to our rear view mirrors.
Is it the retailers’ somewhat greedy 40-50% take of the list price; is that the problem?
Is it the rising costs of hardbacks, the treasures we used to stack against our study and office walls?
Is it a drift to non-fiction?
Proponents won all these, I believe, would be convicted by a jury of their peers, but there’s growing consensus that the true villain lies elsewhere.
Says author Tim Lott, writing for the Guardian, “Literary writers must write better books…My impression of literary fiction is that it has lost the plot. Literally.”
No, says Nicola Baker, a recent Goldsmiths Prize winner, “Experimental novelists and artists provide the ideas that form a cultural plankton for bigger organisms to feast upon…our ideas gradually filter through to the mainstream.”
A well crafted novel, strong on story, can do that too. Ms. Baker’s comment smacks of elitism, an elitism preoccupied with writing for other writers and an assumption that the average avid reader can only comprehend artistic ideas in watered down form. This is the same ethos that almost did in jazz a few decades ago.
It’s well and good to experiment, but Aristotle wasn’t wrong when he said that literature/novel/ story must both inform and entertain.
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