from Robert Collins, “The Novel: Rewound and Remixed,” The Sunday Times 4 July 2010
Less than a century ago, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf took the 19th-century realist novel and forged it into the blinding experimental thunderbolt of high modernism. Ninety years later, with more novels being published than ever, and most of them uniformly aiming for the same realist goal, it’s as if Ulysses, Finnegans Wake and Mrs Dalloway had never happened. Where did the zeal for unfettered innovation go? Even in the brilliantly able hands of David Mitchell, Zadie Smith or Ian McEwan, the novel has regressed almost completely to its realist origins. With commercial expectations in publishing more desperate and unforgiving than ever, the room for experimentation has shrunk to virtually nil.
A recent book, Reality Hunger, by the American author David Shields, has generated febrile literary chatter about the novel’s future. Shields argues that the form, tied to phoney invention and creaky artifice, is no longer a viable medium for the tastes of the hyperconnected age, with its urge towards hybridisation and cross-pollination. Nonfiction — memoir, the lyric essay, rap, all freed from fiction’s dusty strictures — is where it’s at.
Read the rest at Surplus Matter here.