Monday, June 30, 2008
Having read Cormac McCarthy's The Road, I went on to read Jim Crace's Being Dead. I liked them both - the Crace slightly more - though neither with wild enthusiasm. They are both - a poor word but I can't think of another - poetic novels. By this I mean they put the surface of the prose, mood, evocation, suggestion and a single, vivid central idea before narrative, character and all the old, solid virtues of fiction. There's also something dandyish about both books, a strong, look-at-me, gestural aspect to the prose. I used to like all these things in fiction, but, perhaps since my involvement with the divine Marilynne and the sublime Shirley, I have lost the taste. Or perhaps the poetic novel is simply showing signs of age. Its twin peaks in the twentieth century were Joyce's Ulysses and Beckett's Ill Seen Ill Said, both masterpieces, and nothing since, at least in the poetic novel category, can compare. The poetic novel - especially in the form of the nouveau roman - was always associated with the death of the novel, as if the form, with all its bourgeois overtones, was being exposed by the 'experiments' of the poetic novelists. But Crace and McCarthy aren't writing obituaries, nor are they subverting the form, rather they are adjusting its conventions. Fair enough, but, somehow, both seemed too closed off, too complete. My new taste seems to be for more fictional sprawl, more open-endedness, more unstructured life. Being jet-lagged in London, I just thought, probably wrongly, that this was worth mentioning.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 1:21 pm