Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians, has an essay over at the WSJ arguing that the novel is getting entertaining again. His main argument is that what’s been accepted as capital letter Literature by the Modernists, is more reactionary than truly “authentic fiction”(if that makes sense). What he means is what the title of the essay suggests: Literary fiction doesn’t have to be difficult to be good. It doesn’t have to be a sprawling narrative against plot. Here’s an excerpt:
It’s hard to imagine it now, but there was a time when literary novels were not, generally speaking, all that hard to read. Say what you like about the works of Dickens and Thackeray, you pretty much always know who’s talking, and when, and what they’re talking about. The Modernists introduced us to the idea that reading could be work, and not common labor but the work of an intellectual elite, a highly trained coterie of professional aesthetic interpreters. The motto of Ezra Pound’s “Little Review,” which published the first chapters of Joyce’s “Ulysses,” was “Making no compromise with the public taste.” Imagine what it felt like the first time somebody opened up “The Waste Land” and saw that it came with footnotes. Amateur hour was over.