Great ????? novel


I decide to write a post after listening to a Guardian podcast from earlier this year ,I fallen behind with my podcast listening lately .But the podcast focused on the recent novel by Chad Harbach – the art of fielding ,this book is considered an heir to the great american novel .But maybe because it is influenced by Melville’s Moby Dick  “according to its writer .I ve not read the book but have Moby Dick ” . The fact that the so-called Great american novel may have  gone full circle and the ideas that influenced  Meville  have influenced Harbach. Maybe suggest that the great american novel is dying as the form we know spliting into other forms like Jewish american novels  ,the fact that two  books that are massive books in size ,received little or no attention ,but are on my radar and wish list the books Witz  by Joshua Cohen and The instructions by Adam Levin both complex books that maybe show american lit is moving away from the pursuit of classic Great american novel .So with the fact I feel the great european novels have maybe been written in the past Proust ,Zola ,Dickens ,Doblin ,Musil well the list is huge really but European fiction has moved away from what maybe consider the great novel for a particular country .

So what do I define as a great novel something that is part state of the nation ,part social commentary,part insight and maybe something that catches the zeitgeist .More an over view of a nation for me  Moby dick classic example a book about men ,class ,obsession and maybe america become its own nation .


Great Chinese Novel

I m sure somewhere last year I heard some one in an interview ,they said the 21st century was going to be the century of the Chinese novel .So lets start with the Great chinese novel ,any one that reads this blog ,I m sure there are a few people know I struggle with Chinese fiction ,I feel what may be classed a the great Chinese novel hasn’t been written China is so fast-moving in the last few years you feel a book that could capture the feel of one of these Mega cities .The books I have read tend to deal with social issues and the moves from country to town ,rather than a look as Chinese culture as a whole in these mega-cities and how it effect people everyday .They are great books but not what may be classed as great Chinese novel .

Great Indian novel

Now I can think of three books that may already be called great Indian novel the are midnights children ,white tiger and  a suitable girl these books are all wonderful and tackle the subjects I feel make great novels .But all have maybe still been influenced by English writing .Rather like China the urban sprawl of Indian and the complex nature of Indian society is owed a truly great novel to open it up like a post mortem on modern India   .I would love to dive into a book that let me in as a westerner  see inside these huge cities from top to bottom and also gave us an idea of the class and politics of India.

Great latin american novel

Hum some of you will be saying yes there is great fiction from Latin America .This is truE but I feel Bolano ,Mayo and  Neuman have shown the change  in fiction from latin america ,long weighted down with the feeling of having to write  Magic realism so much so that one writer felt so much this held back his fiction he killed himself  Andres Caicedo his only novel to be published next year was maybe the first Great latin American novel not classed as either Magic realism or Dictator fiction   .I finish Neuman’s  traveller to the century a wonderful book but maybe only his first step to a great Latin american novel as it was set in europe .Argentina fiction is moving  looking inward and hopefully moving slowly from their dark past to the present great writers like Figueras and Gamerro ,have both written so well on Argentina past you feel in later books they must discuss the present .I do wonder if we’ll see these books as we seem to like the books discussing the past and maybe miss books that discuss the present .

Great african Novel

Duck my head here ,I clarify I mean the great novel of Nigeria ,Ghana ,South Africa .I pick these three as the y are all countries moving forward and the great novel maybe is of a country feeling great about its self and having pride .I feel these countries are beginning to enter this and starting to show a way forward for africa as a whole moving from western ideas to African ideas .So maybe we need a great novel of africa a book that lets us see Africa through African eyes?I ve read a number of African books ,lots about villages and a few about towns but yet to see one that fills me with that feeling I ‘ve lived and learnt in these pages .

So what do you think am I just rambling or maybe is there some truth in my thoughts ?  

Where do you think the next lot of great novels will come from ?


22 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Max Cairnduff
    Jun 01, 2012 @ 12:54:11

    Personally I’ve never really bought into the concept of the Great American Novel. I think it tends to lead to rambling books that try more than can be achieved in a single work.

    That’s not suggesting you’re rambling, I don’t think you are, but I think there’s a reason you’re struggling for examples when it comes say to China.

    The other thing that strikes me is that Latin America and Africa are continents, not countries. So, it might make sense to look for the Great Nigerian Novel, but the Great African Novel is as impossible as the Great European Novel.

    Would the Cairo Trilogy (which I admit I haven’t read yet) by Naguib Mahfouz count as the Great Egyptian Trilogy?


    • winstonsdad
      Jun 01, 2012 @ 12:58:07

      I did mean individual countries rather than as whole .As for Chinese fiction I think it is more we expect this type of book from there had discussion with mark on this subject when we meet about certain countries only get books translated that us in English expect from that country I think china is a prime example of this


  2. Max Cairnduff
    Jun 01, 2012 @ 13:26:06

    The point about expectations is very true. One sees it even more in cinema. We get quirky films from Japan, or J-Horror, but not their comedies or most of their dramas. We get bittersweet films from Italy even though that’s only a small part of their output. And so on.

    China, like America, is far too big for any novel to capture it. The reason in part I think the concept of the Great American Novel is misguided is that it represents only a part of America as the whole. How can one work show what it means to grow up in Wisconsin, the experiences of immigrants in Arizona, Florida retirees and Chicago socialites? There are a myriad Americas. I agree we expect it of China, but I think we’re wrong to do so.

    Interesting piece Stu.


    • winstonsdad
      Jun 01, 2012 @ 13:30:18

      Yes agree with cinema and when did we ever see an African film that didn’t deal with either war or issues .But still books dealing with more scope be welcome particularly from china for me as I want to find a books I love I ve like but not fully connect body and soul with one yet


  3. sakura
    Jun 01, 2012 @ 14:33:00

    Interesting post, Stu. Regarding the great Chinese novel, I’m not sure whether it’s possible to judge what is great as I’m sure only a tiny percentage has been translated or is widely available. Like you, I’d like to read more Chinese literature but then I’d like to know a lot more spanning centuries rather than those just set during or post-cultural revolution. And same goes to India. I don’t really know much about African or Latin American literature so they’re all new territories for me.


  4. Heather
    Jun 01, 2012 @ 15:27:53

    Interesting topic. I never understood what was meant by “the great American novel”. I haven’t yet read what I’d call “the great. Canadian novel” and I do think it would be more difficult to write as a modern novel as opposed to an historic on. Such a wide geographic country with so many cultures is hard to get a grip on. My sister moved several provinces west, and it’s a very different country (people wise) than it is here. Thanks ks for this thoughtful topic


  5. markbooks
    Jun 01, 2012 @ 18:25:34

    Great post Stu. The last novel I read that I would describe as truly “great” – in a longevity as well as quality sense – is “The Dark Side Of Love”. In fact, I’d suggest that we might see some “great” Arabic novels in the coming years, hewn out of the Arab Spring. I hope so, anyway.


  6. parrish
    Jun 01, 2012 @ 20:15:14

    great post, although not sure on what defines ” The Great Novel” the concept gets bogged down in individual expectations & ends up a nebulous ideal with little basis in reality. Great post as stated got me pondering.


  7. whisperinggums
    Jun 02, 2012 @ 12:57:35

    I think the concept of Great XXX Novel is not a serious thing to actually nominate (because it’s an impossible thing to do) but I do think it’s a fun thing to think about (because it helps us think about literature and nation and culture). I like your definition of such books being “part state of the nation ,part social commentary,part insight and maybe something that catches the zeitgeist”. Do you think “the state of the nation” aspect means that the Great XXX Novel would be a changing thing? How timeless do we think “the state of the nation” is?


  8. Caroline
    Jun 03, 2012 @ 07:10:26

    Interesting post. I can’t add a lot but it makes me think as well.


  9. 1streading
    Jun 04, 2012 @ 19:37:17

    Enjoyed reading this. It does seem strange that only the great American novel is ever referred to (could be a marketing ploy, of course – that would be very American). The only other country which perhaps once had this obsession (though I don’t really know enough to say for sure) is 19th century Russia where a series of great writers attempted state of the nation novels without skimping on the page count. Could it be that the Americans are simply competing with the Russians as usual?
    And the great Scottish novel? Lanark by Alasdiar Gray – a state of the world novel.


  10. Violet
    Jun 09, 2012 @ 08:57:41

    Interesting post, Stu. I wonder if publishers have their eye on the money when they choose novels to be translated into English and figure that what has sold well in the past will keep selling, so we tend to get a lot of books with the same theme or style. Maybe a diverse range of books are being written, but we’re just not getting to read them in translation.


    • winstonsdad
      Jun 23, 2012 @ 17:48:09

      I m sure it is money lead also lead by style we sometimes expect a book to be a certain way from different places because that is what they ve decided we should read


  11. JoV
    Jun 15, 2012 @ 23:12:49

    It’s interesting to note I read a lot translated Arab non-fiction but rarely an Arab novel. So is not in the position to vote for the Great Novel. In the Chinese society there are many classics that are hailed as great books, many of whom I can’t remember the author’s names, it would be books like The Three Kingdoms, The Journey to the West (of Monkey God and the Monk), Dream of the Red Chamber There are possibly more Japanese greats that I can quote if I checked back my list. I think Mishima’s Sea of Fertility tetralogy is one.


    • winstonsdad
      Jun 23, 2012 @ 18:01:13

      Thanks for the suggestions I ll look at them sure be some great Arabic books after Arab spring maybe a love away from what has been the overly stylistic style of some Egyptian fiction be nice


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