Friday, September 25, 2009

Most influential novel of the past 25 years

According to a new survey, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude is the most influential novel of the past twenty-five years. Really?

I read this probably in about 1982 and it blew me away, particularly the last three pages, which I remember I had to read while pacing around the room because I was so excited. Even now, I would probably place it in my top three or five favourite books of all time (Gunther Grass, The Tin Drum number one). But I haven't looked at it in a long time, and I'm very wary of doing so, because I am fairly certain it will not have the same impact any more.

If the precise question asked was 'what novel has most influenced world writing over the past quarter-century?', then it is difficult to argue the case for 100 Years. Back in the early eighties it looked like magic realism was going to sweep the world, and that it was going to be the dominant force in world literature. But that isn't the case any more. If anything, it is now a bit tired. I seem to recall Louis de Bernieres, whose first three novels were magic realist, saying he got frustrated with it because if you got stuck you could just bring a character back to life. I think that lack of challenge has affected magic realism, and I don't particularly feel that it is a major force in current literature.

The sample survey was very small - 25 - and 100 years was, in fact, the only novel to receive more than one vote, so it is a highly unreliable poll. But it's an interesting question. Raymond Carver is on the list and, for good or ill, that may be right: his pared-down, stark style has had an enormous influence in the past 25 years, much more than Marquez. That may now be waning, of course, but that's the nature of things. Looking more widely than just literature, it would be hard to argue against the Satanic Verses.

But what else? Can any novel or novelist be said to have had a truly significant influence on the world of literature in the past 25 years?


Court said...

Surely that oft-discussed book around here, Blood Meridian. . Or, more broadly, ole Cormac. Every other book I pick up these days reads like imitation of him.

Agree with the choice of Lolita . The problem with Nabokov, though, is that he's utterly inimitable. Unlike McCarthy, whose writing seems to lend itself that most sincere form of flattery. Think Rushdie, who owes a hell of a lot to Marquez, is a good choice, too.

Personally I was underawed by Hundred Years . I'd read so much about it before reading, there was bound to be a backlash.

Tom Conoboy said...

Yes, I suspect McCarthy has influenced a lot of young writers. I seem to recall someone who ran an MFA course making just that point. I suppose it's really just who is in vogue at the moment. For a while we were all muscular Hemingwavians, and probably before that there was a lot of Joycean garbage being produced, and I certainly went through a Barthelme phase which is probably best not explored too deeply...