Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Sunday morning: more on McEwan's Saturday

ReadySteadyBlog provides a mouseful of links around McEwan's new novel. In particular, the lengthy (i.e. I scanned it) article on The Sharp Side, a blog new to me (though I'm delighted to see it links to The Gaping Void!). It more than justifies my intolerant reaction to the recent extract from the novel.

Some might condemn my reaction as politically motivated rather than a discerning literary judgement. Indeed, The Sharp Side's author concedes that "[i]t would be unfair to condemn a novel which hasn’t yet been published and which I haven’t yet read". Yet I need only read one sentence from the novel, quoted in The Complete Review's review, to feel political and literary disgust:

This reading list persuaded Perowne that the supernatural was the recourse of an insufficient imagination ...

Whenever I read a sentence like this from a fictional work, I feel the stuffy breath of the Master Novelist. No doubt it is beautifully written. This is not the problem. The problem is that it has the same solipsistic tendency of the beginner who takes up residence in the snug of fiction, suddenly freed from the cold wind and rain of uncertainty.

I once described this kind of sentence to a friend by making up the opening line of to ficticious novel: Laetitia was glad she had lighted a fire in the parlour as the day had turned dark and cold. It evokes, to me, the same sense of suffocation as one feels in the company of a bully.

There's a phrase that comes to my mind now, the source of which I cannot recall, that sums up my own approach to fiction: the creative letting-go of the desire for possession. This is not an intellectual approach - or at least not solely - but felt in the urge to write itself. When I read a sentence like McEwan's, I feel that I am not reading fiction at all. What can it be called instead?


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