Monday, July 23, 2012

The Great American Novelist tournament

The Guardian are running an intriguing and wholly eccentric competitition to find the Great American novelist.

They have selected 32 writers who have each published at least four great novels. It's a shame that four is the cut-off rather than three, because it automatically excludes the greatest living American author, Marilynne Robinson, author of only three novels. They are then playing off in an elimination round, book against book. In the top half of the draw we have:

• William Faulkner (1) - Absalom, Absalom! vs William Gaddis - JR

• Annie Proulx (16) - That Old Ace In The Hole vs William S Burroughs - Naked Lunch

• Edith Wharton (9) - The Custom of the Country vs Joseph Heller - Something Happened

• Ernest Hemingway (8) - A Farewell To Arms vs James Baldwin - Giovanni's Room

• John Updike (4) - Rabbit, Run vs Ursula K. Le Guin - The Lathe of Heaven

• E. L Doctorow (13) - Billy Bathgate vs Joyce Carol Oates - We Were The Mulvaneys

• Don DeLilo (12) - Libra vs John Dos Passos - 42nd Parallel

• John Steinbeck (5) - Grapes of Wrath vs Paul Auster- The Book of Illusions

It's a crazy enterprise. When I first read about it a couple of weeks ago I wasn't impressed, but actually seeing the "matches" it really does intrigue me. That Old Ace in the Hole against Naked Lunch? How can you compare and contrast those? Burroughs has to win it, but to actually sit down and explain why calls for some serious thought.

The Grapes of Wrath versus The Book of Illusions? That strikes me as the most serious mismatch in the list. And I confess to never having heard of Giovanni's Room or The Lathe of Heaven.

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