Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Metafiction

I'm a big fan of Paul Auster, always have been, although for a while I've been conscious of the law of diminishing returns. This quote from the New York Times review of his latest novel is interesting:
The intent is not camp, nor is it parody. It is an act of disbelief in traditional fictional values. The trouble is that the disbelief is getting to be as old as the values. With “Man in the Dark,” Mr. Auster’s literary collider has lost its subatomic energies; the result is wan as well as scattered.

I guess this is the problem with anything experimental, as Auster's metafiction is. Eventually, the experiment has to either lead somewhere or stop. We've had metafiction for forty years (and more) from Auster, Barthelme, Barth, Pynchon et al. They've broken down the barriers. But is there anything beyond? Or do you, in the end, have to return to traditional storytelling in order to tell a story?


I haven't read the new Auster yet but I shall. But not, this time, because it's Auster or because it's metafiction, but because it is another example of the way post 9/11 fiction appears to be going in the US: there seem to be two camps, either domestic dramas or apocalypse. Auster gives us America at war with itself. What a gloomy bunch American writers have become...

2 comments:

Shame-Ridden Old Disgrace said...

Great post. Can I suggest something? The American self-described "literary" scene is a terrible drag and has been for ages. But the genre-fiction world is teeming with freewheeling talent, cheeriness, and energy. They've been busy entertaining audiences with hooks, stories, and characters during all these decades that the lit people have been steering readers into gloomy dead ends. Why not give our narrative book-fiction a try? Donald Westlake is a genius, IMHO ...

Tom Conoboy said...

Hi there, thanks for replying. Great name by the way...

Hmm, yes, something the same can be said in the UK too, I think. There's a lot of self-consciously literary writers around, who seem to lose sight of the fact that, even if you are aiming to deliver a message, you still have to engage the reader. There are some very boring books out there...

Donald Westlake is someone whose books I shelved hundreds of times back in the days when I was a librarian, but I've never read him. Thanks for the tip - I'll check him out at the library tomorrow.

One US genre writer I have read and think is pretty good is Michael Connelly. He can build suspense brilliantly.