Sunday, January 08, 2006

Detox Literature

I'm wondering if January detox should be extended to literature. A few years ago when the New Puritans anthology came out, it seemed that this was more starvation diet than detox, most of the NPs were not getting rid of any excess (it would have required a different set of writers to take the pledge) but simply writing impoverished fiction. Since then, books have both extended and contracted (the increasingly large, gaudy books-about-nothing that have dominated this Christmas) whereas fiction, British fiction, has not done much other than it has always done. I kind of think the pumped up supersize American diet has suddenly lost its allure. If a few years ago it seemed impossible to imagine a British "Infinite Jest", it now seems impossible to imagine anyone wanting one particularly; and a review of the new Rick Moody in today's Observer reminded me that I'd never actually managed to read him. This year will see Douglas Coupland revisiting Microserfs in jPod, and I'm reminded again that "work" is one of the many subjects (alongside sport, money, sex, fame, success, the present, politics) that are mostly absent from British novels. If we clone US TV shows, swapping Donald Trump for Alan Sugar, and (in this years Celebrity Big Brother), try to mix a non-celebrity alongside the other barely-celebrity contestants, our fiction mostly remains parochial, comfort food. In some ways, we're cutting our cloth accordingly; its a big world, but our own part in it is small. Yet, I was talking to a friend at the weekend who reminisced about the history of his Italian family here in Manchester. We have these stories, but we keep them to ourselves or share amongst friends. Or else, in the rarified worlds of McEwan or Hollinghurst, create a protective shell that's only as real as the Sunday Times rich list. I'm struggling to get into Ali Smith's "The Accidental", 12-year-old narrators seem pure creative writing course - there's a terrible paragraph in the first chapter where she struggles to describe the video for A-Ha's "Take on Me" as if seen anew, through a contemporary 12-year old's eyes - its horribly laboured, and clearly will only make any sort of sense to people of a particular age - I'm sure there will be far more to the novel, and I'll stick with it, but 12-year-olds have clearly gone down the educational ladder a bit since Huck Finn. The Observer is also serialising a new Ronan Bennett novel, which he's writing as it appears - a contemporary serialisation. I'm looking forward to starting reading it, but its a shame it begins set in 1914 - how much more interesting if it was in the contemporary day? (PS it was a good start, actually and felt contemporary even if its clearly not!)

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