L-Dimensional Bibliographic Phase Space
John Mullan has been reading a lot of debut novelists recently. This has produced two things. Firstly, you get this TV programme about the 12 best new novelists. Secondly, this article about the state of British literary fiction. Early on we get this remark: “What is literary fiction? It is not genre fiction.”
Rather wonderfully, Sam Kelly responds in terms of Lq, Birdbolts and Moons:
Science fictions are peculiar things, a sheaf of complex curves plotted by an entire troop of drunken ramblers on a walk through L-dimensional bibliographic phase space. One set of dimensions (let’s call it Lq) we can describe as the quality of the book; part, but only part, of Lq is the reflexivity and self-conscious nature, the metatextuality, of the work. Mullan himself says, [Wolf Hall and Never Let Me Go] are both “literary” novels because they ask us to attend to the manner of their telling. We can, I hope, agree that no value of Lq can render a book “not science-fictional”. Sadly, neither Birdbolt nor Moon agree with us
M John Harrison also responds in typically pithy fashion (and with a brilliant post title):
Literary fiction as described here is the fiction of a generation which discovered “good” novels via B-format in 1980. It is a fiction so very clearly generic that when I read John Mullan’s description of it (complete with successful business model, strict boundary conditions and committed fanbase which won’t read anything else) as not genre fiction, I weep with laughter at the sheer depth of his self-deception.
Having announced a decade ago that the Hampstead novel had migrated to Hackney, I see that MJH has now tracked it down to Clapham. It is good to keep on top of these things.