Literary prizes. Two words guaranteed to get the chattering classes, critics and the publishing world in a tizz, but that take little account of the people who matter the most - the readers.
I have made wry observations elsewhere in this blog on prizes and the hype associated with them and while I never begrudge any author who gains an award for proven excellence or accomplishment, I am cagey about controversial newcomers who arrive with fireworks. Like the notoriously double-edged sword of winning Oscars (CNBC article here) such acclaim does not always guarantee a long and successful career but can be the beginning of a bumpy road, even slide back into obscurity.
An experimental and stream of consciousness novel has just won another major award. And here we go again with all kinds of manipulative literary devices. This has fragmentary text. In. Broken. Sentences. It has the trendy child narrator. The brain tumour (what else). Suicide. Underage sexual abuse. Incest. Irish Catholic guilt. 4-letter language. Masochism. Etc. etc.
Yup, all those topics that bombard us constantly in the modern media and that once might have had the power to horrify or shock but are now analysed and discussed openly in often such squirming detail that they are in serious danger of numbing us into compassion fatigue for the genuine tragedies of the real people involved.
I have sampled this book for my research, and would only read the whole thing with a gun to my head. When are we going to see more prize-winning novels that do not scrounge the gutters of depravity but give the reader some hope or faith in humanity and our positive achievements rather than leaving us feeling “wrecked and ravaged” or “punished” as some readers say they have felt after reading this book. The world is already a wrecking, ravaging and punishing kind of place so why do people want to sit and down and read fiction that reinforces all this negativity?
Of course the well-worn analogy has to be applied here of the famous Hans Christian Andersen tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes – how some people will see artistic merit in a blank canvas of nothing, while others see it as a confidence trick.
I am on the side of the confidence trick but, other than Goodreads and Amazon opinions, it is difficult to find negative reviews online. It tends to confirm the fact that not many professional critics are prepared to put their heads above the parapet and risk being shot down by their peers when it comes to bagging out prize-winners.
But what concerns me more, is the likelihood this disjointed and depressing novel will find its way into school and university reading lists before long. Just don’t grumble about failing standards of reading and writing or the bleak disillusionment of youth when this is presented to students as an example of our finest modern literature.
The following links will lead to various opinions on this novel. Is it “Genius!”, an “.. aesethetic wonder … ” or just a “load of old cobblers”? Decide for yourself.
Some of the reviews compare the novel to Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake, and these cartoons seem apt:
|Copyright Wilcox, Sydney Morning Herald, 2006|
|Copyright Chris Wildt, Jantoo Cartons|
|Copyright Bo's Cafe Life, boscafelife.wordpress.com|