A new year, a new hosting site. (The other site will disappear in time, I’m sure). It’s impressive how easy it was to export/re-import all the data. (The only thing which hasn’t copied across is the links’ page, which I’ll need to reconstruct. I’ve had to use a new theme, and this is about the only free 3-column one, and I’m a little frustrated how few features you can customise without paying – I wish the margins were wider on this theme; – on wordpress outside wordpress, you could play with the actual programming, and do what you want! – I’m also going to have to think what to do with Books Read etc).
I admit this blog (let’s call it, the previous blog) has fallen apart of late; – but, so has my reading of novels. Partly this has to do with life; partly novels. For it is only novels I am having a problem with; – for plays, for non-fiction, for Icelandic sagas, I retain a great avidity.
It’s something that’s in fact been building a while. Long since I’ve noticed an inclination towards non-fiction – a familiar enough occurrence, I understand, as you get older. I don’t know what it is, but I’m finding something more interesting, more stimulating in the factual. But also I’ve reached a new point where I find myself questioning too the worth of the novel as an art form. (One amongst many things which annoyed me this year about Robert McCrum’s list of the hundred greatest novels, is that it only had novels in it. For two hundred years, I think, in literature, we’ve convinced ourselves that the novel is the superior art form; yet for two thousand years before, it was scorned.)
The problem with novels is their length. (No, I’ve never been good at long novels; anything over 300 pages I’ve always struggled with). But I’ve come to think now that all (most?) novels are too long. You need a fine degree of genius, in fact, if you’re to maintain a novel over 100 pages.
And I’m not talking about current literature when I say this: you already know I have little but contempt for what people are writing now; but plenty of our greatest novelists too have written flabby monsters. (I’m thinking currently of Nabokov’s Glory, which I’ve been stuck in for a long time – a work which is only 188 pages, but would be better at less than half that – or not written at all). It’s not merely that I think all writing would be improved by being a little more succinct, by trying to structure your novel a little better so that you’re not tediously dragging out your plots and ideas; wasting a little less of your reader’s time. (Of course, I understand there are commercial reasons why you don’t want to write less than 100 pages). Perhaps it is all these plays I’ve been reading: but drama is a much more tighter-controlled artistic experience, and I think Aristotle is right here: there is a greater artistic impact in something if you can read it at one sitting; – you can easier turn back too, and read it again.
It doesn’t help that I’ve reached the point where I’m reading 50 novels at once, and am stuck in most of them. I’m looking through the ones currently that I’m actually inclined to finish, trying to find some common denominator: Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos, Cao Xueqin’s Story of the Stone, Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night, Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Rabalais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, GV Desani’s All About H Hatterr – and that’s about it; the other 45, I am simply not going to go on with; and I am going to be much, much more ruthless about giving up on novels from now on. So all the novels I intend to go on with are classics (the last is the only one not as accepted), but also they are all episodic – the plot isn’t so much the point, as the vehicle in which it is carried, the world evoked which can be endlessly configured.
So fewer novels this year, more plays, more non-fiction. I’ve suddenly become interested in Icelandic sagas; and also – for some reason or other – Arthurian romances. (Seriously, Mr Obooki, you find novels too long and of too little artistic worth, so you’re going to read Arthurian romances? – I know. I have my reasons). Also, I intend to get something (fictional) written this year (asap) and get it out into the world (“publish” might be too strong a word for what I intend).