Is the English Novel in decline? Houman Barekat at the TLS seems to think so. Or is, at least, asking the question. Houman puts forward the idea that the avant-garde novels published in English currently are either in translation, or are not written by English writers. It’s certainly true of those who I can think of right now, and those doing the most for the language currently. The conservatism of the publishing market, and the necessity of fringe writing to be fringe in places which are outside of the main London publishing hub is also covered in the essay. It’s full of erudite opinion from people in the know — especially this comment from David Collard:
“With small presses it’s not all about marketing, and focus groups, and risk aversion. While small presses may be a way ahead in that sense, the writers don’t get much out of it — tiny advances (if any), modest sales and little financial support. I’ve sometimes made the perhaps glib analogy with other hipster enterprises — artisan cheese, vinyl records, craft beers — in that indie publishers are operating on a shoestring for a very savvy and encouragingly substantial audience.”
Which you have to agree with really, when you find yourself gambling on odd, unheard of presses, small magazines and occasional twitter recommendation to find something that sets the top of your skull on fire.
I suppose it all depends on what you want to define the English novel as. If you think of it as the radical social tool as used by Dickens, Austen, the Brontës and Woolf — used to express a vision of the world against the structures that already exist — then you might be right. English novel writing is comfortable with it’s place in the world. Even those display clever formal tricks such as David Mitchell are doing so in a way which is designed to feed a market (a market which happily includes me). English writing which doesn’t come to the conclusion that families are difficult, society is cruel, and the self is humble but true, doesn’t often make itself apparent to me.
Maybe you know better? Please suggest me some new, English novelists who are doing work to build our language by replying to this email!
Speaking of small presses making waves with interesting new writing that is typically not English by birth, here’s a marvellous interview with the man behind Fitzcarraldo Editions — Jacques Testard. Wandering through a really quite excellent CV (to have half his experiences in publishing eh?) and the history of the press really does make you long for your name in white on blue (or blue on white if you’re the non-fiction sort).
Emily Berry’s Freud’s Beautiful Things feels wonderful this Friday evening:
Maybe I am just after a bit of conversation therapy to talk me down from the week, but the chatter to no one. Distance must remain distance indeed.
I am sure I have said this before, but I would love there to be some kind of poetry radio station. Some kind of endless podcast or stream which just played nicely performed poetry with only minor interruptions. It could be something like the Poetry Foundation’s podcast, if they cut out all of the analysis, interview and preamble and just spoke forever. You could just have the poet’s name, the reader and the poem’s title and just roll straight in. I suppose this would be a bit like wanting to listen to those birdsong radio stations, or watching a TV channel of a roaring fire.
This sort of thing comes to me when I would like someone to speak softly at me about deep beautiful things for hours on end — because I might be a little frazzled at the tips.
My most anticipated book of poetry this year is probably Kaveh Akbar’s Calling A Wolf A Wolf. Which I barely serviced effectively at all over here. However, a cover has now been released for the book and it’s really wonderful. Don’t worry, I am already begging for a review copy!
Today’s song is one that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t already subjected you to in these pages:
I actually love this song, mostly for the opening line: “I don’t believe in an interventionist God” — and if you want to hear a little preamble about how Nick wrote it, then this version is also very good.
As my grandfather always said: “call a wolf a wolf if you like, just don’t call me late for dinner”. Thanks for reading Etch To Their Own #15 — I’m sorry if you’ve heard this one before. As always, Etch To Their Own was pecked judiciously from the keyboard by Christopher John Eggett, and proofread with one eye closed and one eye thinking of something else. Send your beloved to this newsletter form, so they too can spot my typos and grammatical failures and then tell me about it. You can send your mother this webpage for her to print out and attach to the fridge, obscuring a drawing you did as a child of a looming presence that lives at the end of your garden which will get you, if you turn your back on it.