Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press

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There's also Donadio's troubling implication that a novel that is not "news-worthy" or somehow predisposed with today's realpolitik is somehow irrelevant. So I guess we can throw away any contemporary novel that deals with some bit of sociological minutiae. Like the Harry Potter example she cites, it's mere escapism. I guess we can say goodbye to any tales that don't represent one of the two sides in the latest geopolitical conflict. In the Donadio universe, a novel seems to fall either as an escapist or a realist expeience.

I'd argue that the ponderous "real world" approach is what troubled Ian McEwan's "Saturday." Instead of McEwan being concerned with human behavior, he felt the need to tie it into September 11 and, to boot, Virginia Woolf. It seemed to me a complete abandonment of the subconscious writing experience, whereby details present themselves, often unbeknownst to the writer, all because the writer has managed to realize the details so well.

I would agree with you in part, Dan, about your point that the novel doesn't serve to "make sense of the world." It presents its details, its perspective, and its voice -- and it is THE READER who makes sense of the novel and, should she be willing, draw parallels to what she might know of the real world. I'd suggest that the novelist serves as a human conduit between a meshing of imaginative and abstract details that are in his head and the inevitable organization of these on paper and later book form. The experience is perhaps so enormous and intricate that the novelist cannot be expected to be cognizant of all details. It is, I put forth, largely instinctive.

And if this is the case, why limit the novel to global events when this process might deliver greater fruit if the abstract meter has been amped up to 10?


First off, I don't see how our times are substantially more newsy than other eras.

Secondly, I don't see how "more newsy" times would translate into a greater need for nonfiction. Sure, good reportage is something I find very important right now and I wouldn't want to not be able to read nonfiction, but we're swimming in a sea of reportage here. Doesn't fiction have something to offer that the mountains and mountains of nonfiction can't, no matter how large they become?

And also, I don't see how more complex times priviledge nonfiction over fiction. Certainly, nonfiction can tell you the details, but don't you often need to appraoch strange, complex details from oblique angles to make sense of them?

Kevin Holtsberry

Perhaps these folks have lost their imagination and so look to non-fiction to supply "the answers?" If everything is to be "socially relevant" then without imagination they soon pass from looking for meaning in fiction (where perhaps it isn't obvious enough) to arranging facts to have the feel of a story.


Another point of annoyance for me is that her starting point in this misguided little essay is a rubbishy comment from V.S. Naipaul.

Naipaul has been saying it for a few years: he doesn't have much interest in writing fiction anymore. He wrote "Half a Life," according to the interview in the same issue of the NYTBR, to fulfil a publisher's contract, not because he was particularly inspired to write it.

For him, the genre as a whole is dying, because he doesn't have interest in it anymore.

And then she takes that comment and goes on to make an argument about book sales and so on. It doesn't make any sense at all.

Dan Green

It is unfortunate that some people seem to be taking Naipaul's recent comments seriously. They really are, as you suggest, incredibly ego-involved, and one hopes they don't cast a shadow over his previous, and very real, accomplishments.

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