Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Bookerisation of American Fiction

We've long protected our own Booker Prize from America, believing, perhaps rightly, that American novelists would then dominate it. Yet, there's been a strange side effect. America, despite its Pullitzers etc., looks longingly at our Booker. The "type" of novel that has become a "Booker novel" has a certain respectability and seriousness about it, that America seems to respect in the same way it likes our Royal Family. That's my impression, anyhow, given the range of writers who have been picked by Granta for its latest Best Young American Novelists issue. Out in May, according to the Guardian (but already on 3 for 2 in Waterstones, according to me), the short biographies of half a dozen writers that the Guardian mentions seems to indicate that new American writers are increasingly like Booker writers - serious types picking exotic subjects, or other lands or peoples - for their novels. The affluent, educated traveller is a commonplace in Booker lists, (though America so far seems to have resisted that other Booker "lure", "the historical novel")and that's what comes to mind reading about the latest crop. "What leaps out of the new list, as the Granta judges have commented, is a heavy emphasis on things foreign." I would add, that this is not necessarily a good thing. Yes, Fitzgerald, Hemingway and even Bellow wrote about a world outside of America, but it was from an American perspective. In a globalised world, this kind of cultural tourism, though often commercially successful, has yet, in my opinion, to produce a literature as good as the indigenous. And though American writers have always embraced university posts, another British trait seems evident, when you read that "Gabe Hudson shares an office with Edmund White at Princeton, where he teaches creative writing. Joyce Carol Oates has an office over the corridor." Hudson sounds an interesting writer, but Edmund White was one of the judges, and like in Britain, it seems that the established literary tent likes letting a few writers in, in case its tent is blown down by a new wind down the street. I remain highly suspicious of writers who actually feel they fit in with the prevailing winds, rather than railing against them. Though, perhaps, given the iconoclastic urban writing of McInerney and Easton Ellis, the new generation feel more at home with such urbane writers as White and Oates. And its worth repeating, that with its cut off point at under 35, generations aren't what they used to be, from Updike, to McInerney to Foer 9/11 has been an alluring subject.

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