Prufrock's Page

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

A Novelatory? A Shortvel?

Philip Hensher (author of The Mulberry Empire) has a wonderful article in The Arts Telegraph on the rise of a new literary genre: "... in the past few years a good number of writers have started exploring the previously blank territory that lies between the collection of short stories and the novel proper. It starts to look like a new form altogether."

He goes on to cite several examples past and present, from Julian Barnes' A History Of The World In 10 1/2 Chapters to Ali Smith's Hotel World to David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas to Helen Simpson's Hey Yeah Right Get A Life.

This is what he says about V.S. Naipaul's In A Free State: "[It] is fastidiously described on the title page as 'a novel with two supporting narratives'. The 'novel' is the story of a journey in an African country; it is preceded not just by the two 'supporting narratives', stories of post-colonial existences, but a prologue, a haunting account of a trip on a ferry to Egypt; there is, too, an unannounced epilogue. All are unconnected, except by theme; it is only Naipaul's exceptional sense of form and balance that turns the book into a whole."

Which actually got one thinking: there was a time -- in the years following the publication of Midnight's Children -- that magic realism, with its polyphonic, sense-assaulting, multitudinous nature, was seen to be the only way to capture the reality of India in a novel. Could the linked short story genre Hensher refers to be the new form that our authors will adopt to portray India's multiple realities? Watch this space.


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