Modern Brit lit is “worthless,” while U.S. readers are “profoundly bored.”
In the same week the Man Booker long list spurned their latest novels, Martin Amis and Ian McEwan have been dismissed as “hollow” by a leading British professor. Meanwhile, McEwan blames the chilly reception to Solar on Americans’ “profound boredom with climate change.”
God, I love the smell of fried egos in the morning.
I’d like to think Americans are profoundly bored with Ian McEwan, my nominee for the most overrated serious novelist on our overheating planet, but that can’t be so. I have too many otherwise intelligent and well-read friends who adore him.
One of these is the Miami Herald‘s Connie Ogle, with whom I’ve had many pleasant shout-downs over the (de)merits of McEwan’s Saturday–to me a wretchedly inauthentic novel. But even so ardent a McEwan partisan as Connie found fault with Solar — not for its subject matter but for its “broad” and “sophomoric” satire.
Speaking at a U.K. festival last week, McEwan admitted being “knocked off my pedestal” by the “passionate dislike” many American readers and critics expressed for Solar, a comic novel about a fading scientist who tries to cash in on the global warming crisis.
“They just didn’t want to hear about [climate change] any more,” McEwan said, according to the London Telegraph, “they were sick to the teeth. I think there was a strong element of that.”
He added, with a laugh: “Or maybe it was no good, there was always that possibility.”
With that laugh, McEwan is sharing a joke with his British audience: Of course it can’t be that I, Ian McEwan, a six-time Man Booker finalist, could ever write a not-so-good novel. Perish the thought!
Oh ho, on the contrary: Gabriel Josipovici, the former Weidenfeld professor of comparative literature at Oxford University, says it’s unlikely McEwan — or contemporaries like Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie or Jonathan Barnes — have written any good books at all.
According to the Guardian, Josipovici says these titans of modern Brit lit are mere technicians who writes novels with “a lack of vision and limited horizons,” thereby squandering the rich modernist tradition that spawned them.
“They all tell stories in a way that is well crafted,” Josipovici says, “but that is almost the most depressing aspect of it — a careful craft which seems to me to be hollow.”
Josipovici’s provocative remarks may not be entirely disinterested: He’s plumping for a forthcoming book of his own, What Ever Happened to Modernism?
And Josipovici shares with McEwan a dispiriting and elitist readiness to blame the press and public: “It’s an ill-educated public being fed by the media – ‘This is what great art is’ – and they lap it up.”
If Gabe and I were at a cocktail party, this is the point where I’d be casting over his shoulder for someone less tiresome to talk to.
Whatever the reason, this year’s Man Booker long list spurned massively promoted new novels by Amis, McEwan and Rushdie. Plenty of familiar literary heavyweights remain, though, like two-time winner Peter Carey, Rose Tremain and David Mitchell.
Former poet laureate Andrew Motion, chair of the judging committee, said the panel made an attempt to set aside literary reputation and judge the novels on their individual merits. I say: Good for you, Andy.
The Man Booker short list will be announced Sept. 7, with the winner revealed Oct. 12.