Last night I attended a discussion at the London Review Bookshop provoked by the book The Good of the Novel, which has been published by Faber.
The evening threw up lots of interesting thoughts and there are perhaps not surprisingly more questions than answers when it comes to discussing the position of the novel now as well as the future direction it might take.
The evening started off with a few comments from Ray Ryan, co-editor of The Good of the Novel before asking a panel for their opinions.
I sat there with my phone and made a few observations based on what each person said and hope they might make a poor but fleeting record of what was said and provide an idea of the thoughts that were expressed on the night.
Ray Ryan, co-editor The Good of the Novel
The novel is always in society therefore difficult to analyse it independently of history.
Each novel sets it's own agenda and makes it's own demands of the reader.
Novelistic truth is not documented.
James Wood, well known critic
We go to it for pleasure. It gave me great feeling of freedom against the backdrop of a strict religious upbringing "An experience of realising reading the novel an area of freedom anyone could be represented thinking anything."
Very few outright tragic novelists. Secularism. Seeing the ways in which Dostoevsky could argue against himself in the Brothers Kasmanov. Began a movement away of whatever religious leaning I had.
Quite important now last decade a revival on both sides of atheism and envangelisism trying to pin us down.
Mental lives are flickering intermittent the novel as a form it alone can do. Hadn't yet had great novel that deals with atheism and fundamentalism perhaps it's coming.
Lee Brackstone, editorial director at Faber
Lee gave a publishers perspective: Publishers position often thankless. Position in chain of command between writer ad reader. We are the first people to cast artform into literary mold.
Lucrative narrative form. I tell other publishers to just buy what you love but Faber needs these things so just how useful is this advice? What pressures of the market to qualify taste? If market and everyman readers didn't exist what would we be publishing? Do the structures bring us the novel we deserve and if not what might that novel be?
Navigate between the gospel of the novel and the demands of a brutal market?
Visceral. To make these decisions and have responsibility in maintaining this list at Faber is a privilege. Novelist ability to deconstruct and surprise and reconstruct. Worries me that element of surprise will disappear where character, plot and style over come place and different voices.
Do readers want entertainment or challenge to comfort? Not novelist responsibility to represent the world but to make it a more uncertain place.
Frances Wilson, author and critic
What I'm interested in is the anti-novelism of novels. Intimacy kureishi it's not a novel might as well call it a fish a book whose intimacy spoke only to her. Rarely like scandal Of fiction that operates one inch from life. Novels should be dangerous or a risk you should be prepared to leave a different person.
Genius in the way kureishi re-framed the real.
If novels are meant to be vecihles of interiority take you inside the heads of Novels being morally uncertain. Deal with the complexity of thought and emotion.
Amit Chaudhuri, author and academic
Disliked the novel as a form for a long time. Viewed the cult of the novel with suspicion. Geoff Dyer berates the form. Always meant to be a poet. Larkin wanted to be a novelist but I always wanted to be a poet. Drawn to was rereadability one of my first experinence belief that certain sentences were enough and whole novel around it were a Nuisance. Get rid of it but do what? Feel like starting anew with each sentence. Novel became a series of fresh beginnings. Heard it had to do with plot and story and the problematic character. Wasn't going to novels for character was going to them for something spatial. Background. Description. which can be a criticism. I was drawn to description and background. Think of the story in a different way not about things happening but about a space. Found myself inhabiting and producing novels.
Novel became more successful with globalisation. Brought in rhetoric of plenty. Leaked into the novel. People were reading more. So what? World of infinite communication and plenty into which the novel had fallen the debate is not so much about the novel can elaborate on various views of the world whole thing haunted by main a happening in literature is the transformation in the interruption. Not the novel but what is the literary?
From critical theory and philosophy. Masterpiece only used by pr agencies not used in literary departments.
Then there were some questions and I picked out a few memorable comments and thoughts in response to queries from readers about what makes novels good and what the role of it is in society.
The good of the sentence rather than the good of novel.
New technology will allow novelist to look at form in a new way. David Foster Wallace was challenging it but no longer.
Novel performs function of a benign mirror happy to see something like us as well as something less pleasant.
Confirmation of the world and invention of the world. Realism can be very frustrating.