A plague on both your houses

Opinion

Should a novel be well written, or a good read?

The two are not mutually exclusive or incompatible. But you wouldn’t know it, listening to a lot of the guff talked about books.

In the red corner we have the high-brow literati, who appear convinced that novels should be slow, ponderous and incomprehensible in order to be any good.

Meanwhile, in the blue corner, a fair number of people, including quite a few who actually buy and read books, have been pointing out that it is, sometimes, an entirely good thing that a novel has a coherent narrative.

The elitists reply that a work of ‘literature’ should have higher ambitions than that. They have a point. We wouldn’t want all the bookshops to be filled with clones of James Patterson and Jeffrey Archer, now would we? On the other hand, a lot of those pretentious literary novels really aren’t very good, don’t go anywhere, have little to say, and represent incompetent story telling.

So who’s right? Should we reward and hail the novels that contain literary ambition, which set out to chart new territory and stretch the art form? Or the ones that represent a damn good read?

I think you know the answer. Drum roll please: as readers, what we crave and desire and want and deserve and demand is….

BOTH!

Both goddamn you.

Why can’t we have novels that are well written and a good read? A good story, characters who come alive on the page, suspense, interest. Combine that with a strong theme, something to say about the human condition, imaginative use of language, care and control over every word on the page. Art and story combined. That would make for a terrific novel.

Is it really too much to ask?

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  • Simon

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