Fiction is dead?

The American writer Jay McInerney in The Guardian today argues if fiction is dead. According to what he himself read from an interview with VS Naipaul in The New York Times, it is - specifically the novel. Naipaul is not impressed by any novel after 9/11. He dismisses writers out of hand, whether they write about relationships, love. To him, their writings are just "a little narrative here and there", and "it's okay, but it's of no account". Jay writes, "What is of account, he claims, are non-fictional explorations of 'the Islamic question', the clash of belief and unbelief, of east and west." He then adds an aside in his next sentence, about Naipaul's readers being an exclusive club. That should say something about how many people do read Naipaul.

Later, in the article Jay put up quite a few examples of todays' writers from both sides of the Atlantic who took on 9/11 into their naratives. He cited Ian McEwan's Saturday, Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Nick McDonnell's The Third Brother, and the most recent, Patrick McGrath's Ghost Town. McGrath is even planning his next novel on 9/11.

I haven't read the others I mentioned - yet. I have read Saturday, and it seems American reviewers were always playing up the 9/11 element in the book, when, really, the events related to it - the sighting of a plane from his window at night, the marches in the morning - are incidental to the main narrative of Perowne's day in which he gets involved with a thug with a medical disorder, and the consequences.

I somehow agree with Naipaul's view that we all have this need for facts, for non-fiction. Again, Saturday: McEwan put in a tremendous amount of research to get some scenes at the operating table, and his analysis of the thug Baxter's medical condition(Hungtington disease), just right. And I'm going to mention another writer, Toby Litt, who also did the same with medical facts - biological mostly; mainly internal body parts - for his book Corpsing. But Toby never weaved too many hard cold medical jargon into his narrative, as much as did McEwan. As Toby did devote a few chapters solely to describe, in vivid details, what happens to parts of the internal body when a bullet travels through them, well. . .OK, that could also count as many. . . medical jargon, too.

Jay ended his article by recommending Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections to Naipaul, because that book was a big hit,a tremendous bestseller, even during the time just after 9/11.

I am about to go read it soon; I just bought it from the Times warehouse sale a few weeks back.


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