THE BOOKER PRIZE 1995
Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Saturday 11 November 1995
Among the targets of Mr Walden's spleen, one was all too familiar. Why, he enquired, did so few of the Booker entries tackle modern England? "Are our writers, by their silence, making a point? Is there something wrong with England? Why do they shy away from us? Do we give off a bad smell, like old vegetation?". If the past (as L.P. Hartley said) is another country, Walden concluded, "then we are facing a sort of mass emigration. Nostalgia is becoming our heavy industry".
Yes, the search for the condition-of-England novel is on again - for that hoary old chimera whose non-appearance is regularly bemoaned every five years or so. Where is our modern Dickens? Where ditto Trollope, Thackeray, George Eliot, Gissing, Mrs Gaskell, Priestley and the others who could write about characters from more than one class and with an at least implicitly serious moral intent? Why is nobody writing about modern Britain, its multifarious scams and corruptions and weird, tribal nightlife? Where is the British Grapes of Wrath, the London Bonfire of the Vanities? When, five years ago, Tom Wolfe was asking why fiction writers had failed to capitalise on the social mulch he had ploughed up in his journalism, the answer became clear, or clearer: because of journalism. Because in a nation so chronically devoted to self-analysis as ours, where such a variety of sociological features, style features, psychological, psephological, polycultural, cross-cultural and consumerist features clutch each new item of Modern-Englishness and wrestle it to the ground for its "meaning", there is little left for the novelist to chew over with any conviction that it will be still be "novel" by publication day. Rather than hang a plot on rollerblading or the Internet, the modern novelist must do what novelists have always done - look for a confluence of time, place, person, dilemma, crisis and transformation that will most tellingly inspire drama. If that requires the coincidence of the Great War and psychoanalysis, the yoking together of Ancient Rome and cosmology, or of the Dark Ages and amateur dramatics, then so be it. Looking to the past is not, pace Mr Walden, nostalgia, except in the pages of Catherine Cookson. It's a search for meaning beyond the everyday. It's what fiction is for.
Is the comedy album making a comeback?comedy
Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beachart
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Malaysian cyclist could face disciplinary action after 'Save Gaza' gloves protest
- 2 Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?
- 3 Fifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage from US parenting groups
- 4 McDonald’s removes chicken nuggets from the menu in Hong Kong amid major food scare
- 5 Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
Fifty Shades of Grey trailer: First look at Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey
Fifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage from US parenting groups
Guardians Of The Galaxy, review: Marvel-lite movie feels half-hearted
Fifty Shades of Grey film stills
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Vladimir Putin is given 'one last chance' to end hostilities in Ukraine
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering
Arizona execution lasts two hours as killer Joseph Wood left 'snorting and gasping' for air
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia