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Wednesday, 10 September 2008

What Is The Booker For, Then?

The latest Booker shortlist excludes Salman Rushdie, in favour of six novels that are "fun", "readable" and "page-tunring" - in short, that represent the rewards of entertaining commercial fiction. Michael Portillo, a failed politician, and now incompetent literary judge, has said he is "not a literary expert." I see. What then, is he doing judging the Man Booker prize? Another judge said they "want a book to tell me a story". How infantile. Readers need to stop wanting things from books and novels - they're not websites you can just click on for instant gratification, nor TV's flatscreen teat. Literature in Britain is now officially dumb.

If even the Booker prize seeks to merely select popular "big reads" what hope is there, for serious, intelligent, and, yes, sometimes difficult literary fiction? It used to be, this prize was meant to discriminate, for readers, and lead them to the best. The best, mind - not simply the most fun. Another judge derides the "finely turned sentence" and calls for moving "a story on in an engaging way". For that, page-turn to Dan Brown.

Eyewear believes in popular culture - but fears what was once a healthy tension between high and low culture, in Britain (where crossing between states created sparks) - has now been too-easily resolved, in favour of what seems to be a simplistic, and individualistic (even egoistic), aesthetic: that of the everyman, whose desire is to be pandered to, not questioned. Call it Literary Consumerism, but it reminds us that, as de Tocqueville noted in America, democracy leads to demands that are lowest common denominators in matters of taste. Style, the well-turned sentence, is the core of a great novel, not an impediment. What's Melville or James without style? Bring on the doomsday machines, after all.
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