What kind of novel?

Posted on: July 18th, 2012 by Eleanor Johnston 7 Comments

Literary novel – Okay, this term sounds pretentious and maybe is pretentious. We have spent the past gazillion years, both of us, reading literary novels and admiring some more than others in terms of criteria that evolved over time. That was fine since all life forms evolve. I think that the nail on the coffin of The Great Tradition was the book that defined it.
Things happen faster now. Love and Death and the American Novel, Leslie Fiedler’s attention-getter of an American literary critic, had enough attention. Next up was Margaret Atwood’s Survival focused on the themes of Canadian literature: survival and victims. The main characters suffer in the great white northern wilderness and either survive or die, usually by freezing in the snow. Character building. Since Survival came out, Can lit has gone urban.
A literary novel tackles big themes and tries really hard to develop its characters in terms of the techniques used by contemporary great authors (if a novel can have human aspirations).
A literary novelist would love to be read by professors and admired and/or envied by grad students.
A literary novel might love to be a best seller or a sleeper discovered by an egotistical grad student or an aspiring novelist with a penchant for bullfights.
A literary novelist hates tours, book-signings, book readings, not only because they become routinely tedious but also and more importantly, after a late night of hobnobbing with one’s fellow scribes, one has no sense of inspiration the next morning (as opposed to the morning after because there’s no such thing on a book tour).


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