You know, he’s on to something here. I can’t remember the last time I actually enjoyed a book that won a Major Literary Award. Of course, I’m excluding things like the Hugos and Edgars and such here…I’m talking about the Man Booker, the Orange, and the Guardian Prize* among others.
Now, I freely admit that I’m not a “literary fiction” type. I just don’t get it. There is enough depressing in this world – enough depressing news to read, scenarios to hear of – that I don’t feel the need to seek out depression and melancholia in my fiction. I’m not even that big a fan of dystopias, for that reason. But I particularly do not want to read pages upon pages of whinging about existentialist crises and swanning around the verandah in the service of Art and Truth in the eyes of the failed-poet-cum-novelist that seems to dominate most literary prize shortlists.
I’d rather read something entertaining.
Which is not to say something without a message, or fabulous literary devices, or gorgeous imagery and language. A book can have all of these things, and still have an engaging plot and fascinating characters. In fact, it should have all of these things. I simply cannot fathom the idea these days that literature should have to be a slog, just as Amis cannot.
What’s wrong with having a little fun once in awhile? What’s wrong with having a plot?
I swear, this is another thing creating the Genre Ghetto – the concept that Literature Of Merit must be painful to read. As Amis points out, Dickens et al had exciting plots and interesting characters. They didn’t just mope and moue and pout for 700 pages and never bloody do anything.
So let’s break the trend, eh? Let’s read whatever entertains us, and talk about the merits of literature – no matter its genre – that winds its fingers into our minds and souls and refuses to let go.
*Which is another story – I can’t say I’m pleased to hear about the entry fees for the Guardian, which are sure to keep small publishers away. Funding is important and prizes are important, but keeping your capital so that you can publish more books is even more important.