There has been a furore of late about comments by Will Self on the death of the novel: or, to be precise, on the death of literary fiction. As anyone can see, certain types of novel are flourishing: fantasy (Philip Pullman, J K Rowling), Sci-Fi (can I mention ‘Replicas’ and the Hugo Prize once more here?https://amzn.to/2IygeeB) crime (‘Girl on Something Somewhere’) and soft porn (you know which) are clearly selling well. But there’s an argument that TV box sets have replaced narrative; and whilst it’s true that we are living in a golden age of TV drama (I’m glued to ‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace’ right now) some of those same box sets are based on novels and sales of said novels go up when the series are aired. Examples include Vera, Game of Thrones, Poldark and of course Sherlock, which caused me to take out and re-read some of Conan Doyle’s stories and relate them to the TV ‘updates’. That’s not to mention all the literary classics which get box-setted * every few years, such as The Forsyte Saga and anything by Dickens or Austen. * OMG what a terrible compound verb!
Will Self may have a point, though I suspect pundits have been predicting the novel’s demise ever since it was born. Like a sickly baby – like Stephen Hawking as soon as he was diagnosed – people have been expecting LitFic to pop its clogs for ever, yet valiantly it carries on, like a bee who doesn’t know that it can’t fly. Or like Snoopy who doesn’t know that the world is too miserable for him to be dancing:
The most recent argument for the demise of the novel is the decrease in our attention spans. It’s a fair point; we have so many distractions now that to sit for several hours with a novel is much more difficult than it used to be. Then there’s online publishing and self-publishing, plus the recession – all leading to the decline in traditional outlets.
I have a dream (oo! Did you hear about Martin Luther King’s granddaughter saying she had a dream that ‘enough is enough’ for guns? Terrific:
Anyway – I have a dream. It’s not the same order of dream but it’s a dream nevertheless, that somehow the future lies in the oral tradition. I am convinced that we have to go back to our oral roots: spoken word is already massively popular, especially with young people, because it’s the antidote to an automated, virtual world. It is direct and personal, it is up-front and face to face. It’s healthy too, as Michael Rosen says in this article:
So now we need to do for prose what performance has done for poetry. I don’t mean endless readings; of course a novel can’t be performed in the way that a poem can. But if Dickens did it, so can we; and in my mind there is a stage where I will perform parts of novels along with poetry.
Anyway, here are some of Will Self’s musings:
and here are some counter-arguments: