Critics sneer as hit football novel becomes 'classic'


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The Independent Online

Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby's depiction of life as an Arsenal fan, is to join the likes of The Great Gatsby and Ulysses on the Penguin Modern Classics list – to the consternation of some critics.

Hornby is one of the most successful British novelists of his generation, but the inclusion of a book about football fans on a list that contains some of the pillars of 20th century literature has raised eyebrows among the academic community.

Critics have questioned whether the book, which was published just 20 years ago, has the timeless, universal appeal that makes a book "a classic". John Sutherland, Professor of English Literature at the University College London, suggested that while "classic" was a "very loose category", the claim of Fever Pitch to belong to it was looser still: "Classics don't just cross time, they cross frontiers…Fever Pitch is a very good novel… but are they reading it in Paris, Berlin, Moscow?"

But fellow authors have rallied to Hornby's side. Tim Lott, whose 1996 book The Scent of Dried Roses, is also on the Penguin Modern Classic list, said that Fever Pitch's classic status was "well deserved".

Dr Patrick Hayes of St John's College, Oxford, said that by promoting Hornby's "middle-brow" brand of fiction to the status of "classic", Penguin had a provoked a fresh debate about what the word "classic" means. "Whether something is a classic gets judged over an awfully long time, by readers who return to the work again and again and repeatedly discover in that work something compelling or powerful," he said.

Alexis Kirschbaum of Penguin, said that 'Fever Pitch', published in 1992, was chosen because it "struck a chord with the popular imagination".