If I knew who George Steiner was without having to look him up I would probably have taken his verdict more seriously but I had more urgent matters on my mind.
The Guardian was ferried to my bedside on Saturday morning along with the shockingly devastating news that our village shop with in-house butcher's department is closing down this week.The little Post Office is separate and will stay, but for how long?
Can you believe it? We'll have to completely rethink our bread / milk / egg / bacon buying strategy along with the zillion other things we nip the three miles up there for. The end of an era as Bookhound can no longer leap into the shop and sing the first line of a cheery song to Jan behind the counter. Tradition has it that she always sings the next line back, no matter how full the shop, it's been their little game for fifteen years, life in the village will most definitely not be the same.
But back to George Steiner and a little piece in The Guardian Review recounting a most interesting evening which seems to have been had by all at the Royal Society of Literature in London where George was speaking on the subject of taboo. From what I could gather from the piece which was just the bare bones of the evening, the merest flavour of the event, George Steiner now feels that virtually no subject is taboo and as a result,
'The western novel - British in particular - is in dire straits...now that anything can be said, fiction is in deep trouble...I believe the narrative form is very very tired.'
Poets are apparently the answer with the
'power of the metaphor located in constraint.'
Now I've probably diluted the hint of a flavour of the debate into the merest dash of bland colour but I can only hope and imagine the ensuing argument was fearsome with outgoing President of the Royal Society, Maggie Gee, apparently challenging this 'sweeping damnation.' We all know it, poetry often the best form for saying the unsayable but now if as it seems nothing is unsayable, fiction will just have to embrace and cope and from where I'm sitting it does.
But what's 'tired' ?
I struggled to identify 'tired'.
Tricky if not risky to pin down this hint of a gist of an event that has thrown up such a controversial statement and I hadn't been there to hear it in the context of what went before or after. Every chance I'd bark up the wrong tree and miss the point completely and who do I think I am anyway, George Steiner's probably a god.
But, who dares wins, I examined my current reading in the light of George's observations and came to my own conclusion that finally, at long last we do have fiction that can and does talk about everything and it's having a fair old crack at it.
New fiction that explores, examines and exposes, teaches, warns and consoles, giving me deeper and more detailed insights than ever before in this one lifetime of reading. Words on the page leading me into previously uncharted territory, walking me out the other side with my mind buzzing, thoughts racing, more to consider than I ever imagined possible.
Isn't that good enough?
Should I be expecting more?
Perhaps my horizons aren't broad enough to offer a considered opinion but like many others I'm reading what's out there and it doesn't disappoint.
Some do it in exciting and innovative ways, In Search of Adam by Caroline Smailes comes to mind, others invigorate my reading, invest their narrative with super-charged energy often subtly discharged but job done. Crusaders by Richard Kelly, Anne Enright's The Gathering; Black Dirt and Devotion from Nell Leyshon. Rosalind Belben, Our Horses in Egypt, despite its 1* reader review in newbooksmag and the suggestion that it was a book beyond the scope of the average reader, a book that tested narrative form to its limits and still I'm thinking about it even now, weeks on. First novels full of promise for the future, like Charles Lambert's Little Monsters which I'll share thoughts on here tomorrow.
Then what about Kalooki Nights by Howard Jacobson?
British as they come, there's a book, like it or not (I loved it), that pushed the boundaries of taboo; Amelie Nothomb, oh heck, Belgian, never mind, endlessly and spiritedly reinvents ways of telling, I could go on for hours.
Uppermost in my mind at the moment a book I'm halfway through, The Rowing Lesson by Anne Landsman. Oh dear, not British either but here's a bench mark book to be going on with, nothing tired or weary about this one. Anne Landsman has taken a firm grip on the throat of her narrative and is shaking it about fit to pop its eyes out.
Simultaneously I have another Ann in progress, er, American again, Ann Patchett's novel Run. Heaven's above though, it's beautifully written, hidden depths making it a page-turning cracker
No, the novel does not feel tired here, perhaps it has a little rest occasionally, but nothing terminal. Maybe I've over-simplified and misinterpreted George Steiner's erudite literary argument but his world all too depressing to contemplate really, as is the closing of the village shop .