Monday, November 14, 2011

Spineless Books





"This cultural recession mirrors the economic downturn. Last month, on a visit to the US, I got a rare glimpse into the desperate conditions in which the contemporary writer must operate. Apparently, for at least one prominent literary agent, there is now only one rule, which can be expressed mathematically as 1/10, thus: 'A new novel should be summarised in a single sentence, and should stop dinner conversation for at least 10 minutes.' [...] It's the Ikea novel, shaped by the logic of 1/10. Ikea novels are the kind of fiction that comes direct from the factory, with no intercession of craftsmanship or artistry en route to the consumer. They are created by often talented writers, frantic to make a career, who have acquired a boxed-up fiction kit at a suburban outlet and assembled it in their spare time on the living room floor, with a construction manual in one hand, The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook in the other. [...]
The Ikea novel has all the things that fiction is supposed to have. It is competently written in a simulacrum of fine writing. It has character and situation, conflict and resolution. Somewhere you will find the 'arc of the narrative.' Under its highly painted metalwork there's probably an 'inciting incident' or two. Ikea-fiction writers know all about 'first-' or 'third-person' and 'unreliable' narrators. The latter are fashionable just now, because they can be used to explain away narrative cock-ups.
The thing that Ikea culture manufactures looks like fiction, sounds like fiction and even reads like fiction. There's just one problem: Ikea fiction is not original, and not distinctive, with no inner vision or humanity. It comes from a kit. It's a fake and can never be a work of art. How could it be? It was invented to please a market, and to make money. No wonder so many erstwhile novelists are turning to film and television." — Robert McCrum, Guardian
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