Brave New Genre

I’m reading two David Markson novels at the moment – This is not a Novel and Last Novel.  Reading two books is not out of the ordinary for me, I usually have a “bus” book and a “home” book, but why I chose two novels by the same author is.

I am a sucker for lists. A while ago I found a link to the list of 1001 books I “should” read and I’ve been working my way through it (I’ve read lots of the classics but not so much from the last decade or so. The list does not include any plays so hurrumph.) Then a friend of mine sent me a link to another list, and well that seemed like a challenge to me. He found Last Novel in the library and we looked in awe at it. The novel is a list of anecdotes and facts of the greats of the literary, music and art worlds. All of them underappreciated in their time. I kept bugging my friend asking if he had finished the book and returned it so I too could read it.

So a couple of days after he returned it ( to give the librarians a bit of grace to get it back on the shelf) I went to the library to get it out. I found the book and a small collection of Markson’s other books.  I opened up This is Not a Novel and found the same kind of list and felt…cheated.

So I started reading both books at the same time in an effort to “trip up” the author, to sneer when the same facts came up, the same themes…

…and then realised that the same themes come up in my work. Hell I’ve even referenced The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe in two of my pieces. I have the tendency to get characters drunk when I get stuck. I like to talk about free will vs predestination.

Markson has created his own genre – and it is like nothing I’ve ever read before ( to be honest to read something non-linear when I’ve been looking at the Hero’s Journey for so long is a bit of a relief!) Is that what all authors are striving to do? I admit I am guilty of lumping all of Jane Austen’s work together (someone asked me if I had read I-forget-which-novel to which I replied “I’ve read one, I’ve read them all”).

I’m not sure if I’m enjoying the novels either. The lists of facts appeals to me (I do love a list!) and I am feeling the exhaustion/despair of writer/novelist – it is sad that artists die (and will continue to!) being under appreciated and (in some cases) penniless. But I don’t feel empathy for writer/novelist.

I guess it is because I don’t expect to be appreciated, I really don’t think that the world owes me anything because I chose to become a writer. Sure there are times when I feel paranoid, that the world has conspired to suppress my genius, but they are relatively short lived (nothing a cup of tea won’t fix.) I think stories and their tellers are important to society, but let’s face it: we’re not curing any diseases, feeding the starving…

I guess it would be easier to feel that way if I was comparing myself to the greats, if I hoped that my work would enter the canon of Western literature… but I think it’s highly unlikely. God I can’t imagine the pressure that would put you under.

I’m not sure what my benchmark of success is. Hmm, something to ponder.

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2 Comments

Filed under On being a Writer

2 responses to “Brave New Genre

  1. ed

    lists
    – I think I am too – but not per se other folks’. Mine, the ones that say I am working on all these projects – I really need to teach myself the longer the list the less I get done! and the less lists written the more time I’ll have to do things!

    compare yourself to the greats?
    – wouldn’t it be better to compare yourself to your favourites? – I’d rather be loved in the way I do philip reeves, philip k. dick or maurice sendak than someone in the cannon – a grubby and much thumbed paperback in the back pocket than a text they teach you at school…

    we all return to the same themes.
    People keep on telling me this – I guess as long as writers are constantly exploring and going further with new news to send back there is nothing wrong with exploring the same themes

    New Genre
    yes, I think most of us writers bite and scratch and hack at the ‘working template’ – ‘the way it should be’ – and to some degree I think that is as it should be – what works works but if ALL we do is work to an observed genre / template – it’ll become rigid, desiccated, repressive – stifling the unexpected and unknown. Now some people love the idea of restriction and use rigid templates (eg haiku) to force them to be all the more creative (I’m told the french novel ‘A Void’ is exactly this – someone other than the author set them the task of writing not using the letter e – and out of that came an entire novel).

    I don’t know if it would work for me though

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