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Novel not dead, but reading is in trouble

india Updated: Jan 25, 2013 16:35 IST
Jairaj Singh
hindustan times

The last session of the first day of the sixth edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival ended on positive note: the future of the novel is not dead. In the words of winner of Man Booker Prize for The Finkler Question, Howard Jacobson, those who say the 'novel is dead' are exhausted themselves. "Novel is the most important thing. Novel is argument. Argument is life."

Pakistani writer Nadeem Aslam says for him the novel is a personal affair and once it leaves his study, he is indifferent to what happens to the form. "My work is an exploration of life." Author of historical novels Lawrence Norfolk says, "Writers have carnivals of imaginations. The novel is just a vehicle to reach it across."

Zoe Heller, famous for Notes on a Scandal, believes the novel has become malleable. "The real threat to the novel is impatience, short attention spans," she says. Long format televisions shows are increasing the "story appetite" of complex character developments.

Jacobson says the problem is not with writing, it is with reading. "We are looking at a future where there will be more writers and no readers of novels," he says. "Everywhere sales of novels are declining; yet attendances at literary festivals going up. Are events replacing reading?"

So the novel of the future is not dead as VS Naipaul once famously decreed, but the highly accomplished panelist of authors agree doom is somewhat impending. "If the prose is good, it will provide the music. You won't need to press a button," Aslam says on the novel taking new media forms.

Books like 50 Shades of Grey and its unfathomable success is not helping the cause. "If readers (mostly women) will be aroused with a 'man's package', we're all finished," says Jacobson.