Tuesday, 13 July 2010
Craig Raine and The Critics
It is a basic rule of this blog that I only talk about books I have read and so I can't say anything about Craig Raine's new novel, Heartbreak, because I haven't yet read it. Like everyone else, however, I have read Terry Eagleton's hatchet-job in the London Review of Books, and it has reminded me – to compare great with small – of my own 2001 novel, A Short Book About Love which also provoked the comment that it was "not really a novel". Raine is not shy of controversy of course and can look after himself. I have to declare an interest in that his magazine Areté published two pieces by me (one very long, one very short) and in consequence I was invited to his lovely house in Oxford for the 10th birthday bash of the magazine where many famous literati pullulated. Since both pieces were published not as a result of any currying of favour with this charmed literary élite whom we all love to hate (I didn't know any of them so there were no strings to pull) but by the simpler expedient of putting them in an envelope addressed "Dear Sir" I salute his openness to unsolicited material, always the mark of a good editor. As former poetry editor of Faber and Faber and putative founder of the Martian school of poetry, and chum of Martin, Ian, Julian etc, Raine was bound to attract enemies but I can only say he was very nice to me.
The new book, which appears to be a series of episodic reflections and digressions on the subject of love (a fair description also of my book) raises the question of what is and is not a novel. The epigraph to my book was taken from Dr Johnson, who defined the novel in his A Dictionary of the English Language as "A small tale, generally of love." My definition would be "whatever you want it to be". Aldous Huxley said there are no rules governing the novel except that it must be interesting and I agree. What we want writers to be is inventive, original, entertaining. If they don't have plots – or beginnings, middles, and ends – then so be it, as long as they are a pleasure to read. In my last post about Isaac Bashevis Singer I said how much power there still is in realist fiction and I believe this. But there is also scope for the sort of writing that takes liberties and gives pleasure in the process. So let people break the rules and let the puritans be discomfited.
Now I will go and read Raine's book...