Saturday, April 03, 2010

Global Novel


The need for a novel to have universal and international appeal is a subject close to my heart. I have blogged about how writers from non-English speaking countries are often pushed to pander to the sensibilities of their English speaking readership at the cost of the art and craft of their writing . This post by Tim Parks on the global novel and how it fails to deliver addresses this issue :

As a result of rapidly accelerating globalization we are moving toward a world market for literature. There is a growing sense that for an author to be considered “great,” he or she must be an international rather than a national phenomenon. This change is not perhaps as immediately evident in the US as it is in Europe, thanks to the size and power of the US market and the fact that English is generally perceived as the language of globalization, so that many more translations go away from it than toward it. However, more and more European, African, Asian and South American authors see themselves as having “failed” if they do not reach an international audience.

Parks argues that the lack of "culture-specific clutter and linguistic virtuosity" take away from the quality of the writer's output. The idea being that a writer must be allowed to tell their story in the language and the atmosphere that they feel closest to. They should not be forced to simplify and dilute in the interests of reaching international readers. Shakespeare and Austen are held out as examples of writers who have have failed the international appeal test in today's world.

That is probably not true - the fact that both these authors have survived the test of time and are read around the world is evidence that having universal appeal is driven by the theme and its handling by the author and has less to do with culture specific tropes. What has happened to the garden variety global novel lately is that that writers have either abandoned local color to reach a wider audience or over-done it to claim a niche. In either case, the themes they are dealing with lack in broad appeal and the telling of the story itself is seriously lacking. With substance being the real problem, the style does not help or hurt them a great deal.

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