In celebration the 50th Anniversary of the Man Booker prize some canny administrators decided it would be swell to pit all previous winners against one other for a literary back-pat to stand the test of time.
Derided by some as a publicity stunt, the award will nevertheless carry an enduring gravitas as the Booker of Bookers (thus far, anyway). As the judges announce their controversial shortlist at the Hay Literary Festival this month, it’s prime time to take to social media for a good whinge. The list could be said to reflect a certain contemporary bias as there are several surprise outs and ins. But the good news is the final winner will be decided by the public, who have until early July to submit their vote.
“But no man’s a hero to himself.”
Nostalgia has never been rendered with such bittersweet whimsy as in Something Wicked This Way Comes, the only full-length novel written by speculative master, Ray Bradbury. The adjective-laden prose, nuanced with strokes of scent and shade and breeze, is beautiful in a uniquely poetic way. Even Stephen King, with his notorious hatred of adverbs, was an ardent fan of Bradbury’s genius, admiring his stories for their “resonance and strange beauty”.
What we can learn from the rise of the caped avenger.
The hero, it seems, will never die. From the ancient empire-creating adventures of Odysseus to the poetic quests of Sir Gawain, masterpieces that have truly stood the test of time have been tantalisingly heroic. Why? People like them.
Fast-forward a millennium or two and the narrative world is overrun with neon spandex and flying shields. Almost forty superhero blockbusters have been released since 2000. One has even made it into the top ten most popular movies of all time (according to the IMDb). Guardians of the Galaxyis already at 8.5 (at time of print) placing it on the same rung as Taxi Driver, American Beauty, even Citizen Kane. And this is a movie that features Bradley Cooper (two-time Oscar nominee) as a talking raccoon.
Halloween, All Hallow’s Eve, Allhallowtide, Night of the Dead, whatever you call it and however you think it came into being one thing’s for sure, it’s become a majorly lucrative chocolate-selling and movie-renting business. This year why not save your consumerist fervour for Christmas and instead stay home for a quiet evening read, with a flickering candle and a glass of brandy or something. What to read, you ask? We have just the thing.
Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink beneath the lake,
The shadows lengthen
Last week I got a bit academic on you and started down this road of form and structure, and what it means to readers and writers and so on. The reason for this dialectic digression stems from my own exploration of the concepts of form over the past few months while I have been structurally editing my manuscript. As anyone who has ever done this knows, ideas of form are integral to the structural process.
Literature and philosophy have been inseparably entwined in the thoughts of humankind since we first had such thoughts about such things. Almost all our modern thinking about narrative structure and form has its foundations, at least in part, in Aristotle’s famous examination of story, Poetics, which itself was a product of centuries of development of dramatic art and narrative experimentation.
No this will not be a discourse on the figurative seasons of a writer’s life. There are plenty of those oozing around the web and many more hidden in forgotten spiral notebooks on your study shelves.
Right now I’m focused on a much more literal literary problem. I’m interested in the craft of writing seasons.
These days it’s rare to find a novel that can truly surprise readers. We’re all too busy and too opinionated to be messed around by sneaky genre-bending narratives. Authors are encouraged to satisfy reader expectations and dance to the tune of stylistic conceits, in ‘literary’ works as much as in ‘commercial’ fiction. While Gone Girl sits firmly in the crime/psychological thriller category, the explosive success of the novel has much more to do with how well Gillian Flynn bends the rules than with how well she follows them.