I’m sure other people buy books because they feel they ought to read them, and then leave them on a pile for ages: this novel sat for ten years awaiting my attentions! I’d heard it praised in various quarters, and yet in the end I was deeply disappointed. Yes, I could appreciate the various modernist aspects, the shifting timeframe and the unreliable narrator, but I couldn’t appreciate the superficial and pointless characters, none of whom really engaged my attention or sympathies in the least. And yet, I was glad I’d read the book… I feel confused, as if I’ve missed something, and am beginning to think that I’ll have to go back to it and re-read – though maybe in another ten years.
This unsatisfactory experience takes me back to two key questions: firstly, what literature will survive to be read by future generations and why? – to which there is clearly no obvious and straightforward answer, and, secondly, why does so much English literature annoy me? By this I mean that, to me, what is being written in other lands – European and world-wide – is often more interesting, engaging , relevant, than what is being originally written in England or in English. None of my top three novels of the twentieth century is an English novel.
I know I’m generalising, maybe ridiculously, here, and yet… no-one can know all literature, there’s just too much of it; everyone therefore selects and gets to know and like various aspects, and defends them against all-comers. I’ve spent much time exploring East European literature, especially that from the Soviet era, I’ve read fairly widely in other areas, too, including science fiction and utopian literature. I suppose this means I like my literature to engage with ideas and history as well as characters, perhaps in a way that I don’t feel English literature has done.
So, even though I think I’m probably missing something, I’d need another existence to explore it.