Literary Greats?

It seems there is a little boy telling us that the emperor is in the nuddy.

Their mantelpieces might creak under the collective weight of literary gongs but, according to one leading academic, leading contemporary British authors such as Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes are unworthy of the accolades they receive.

In an outspoken attack, Gabriel Josipovici, the former Weidenfeld professor of comparative literature at Oxford University, condemned the work of the giants of the modern English novel as hollow. He said they were like “prep-school boys showing off” and virtually indistinguishable from one another in scope and ambition.

I haven’t read two of those mentioned. I have read Rushdie and really wish I hadn’t bothered. It was in the wake of the fuss over The Satanic Verses. I had to read it to find out what that fuss was all about. That was several hours of my life I will never get back – and I was none the wiser. Rushdie’s writing is pretentious, dense and mind-numbingly tedious. An utter, utter waste of time and massively overrated. If the other two are of a similar ilk, then I’ll pass, thanks. Indeed, whenever I see what the Booker Prize throws up each year and discover that it is oh, so worthy “literary” fiction, I mentally consign it to my don’t read at any cost list. I read to be entertained, not bored into submission my unreadable guff that spends thousands of words going nowhere fast.

This, of course, brings me to those literary critics who complain about plot driven novels, rather than character driven. Good writing will keep the pace and plot moving while still sparing time for character development – but, there must be a discernible plot that nips along at a brisk pace or the reader will lose interest. I lost interest in Rushdie’s protagonists very early on, but persevered in the hope of learning something. I learned nothing.

The literati complain about the likes of Dan Brown because they write populist nonsense. I have read The Da Vinci Code – again, in part to find out what all the fuss was about. Of course it is bunkum. But is it fun bunkum. Entertaining novels frequently are. It is a page turner. This is why Brown sells so well, despite the worthy of the literary world pouring scorn on his output. The proles read him, like him and buy the novels. That, of course, will never do… It isn’t ‘art’.

The fact that such writers had won so many awards was “a mystery”, Josipovici told the Guardian. He added: “It’s an ill-educated public being fed by the media – ‘This is what great art is’ – and they lap it up.”

I don’t. But, then, I am capable of making up my own mind.


  1. I agree about Rushdie – I have started two of his novels and failed to get more than 50 pages in. Julian Barnes I have not read.

    But McEwan is a very good writer, in my opinion, and his style is nothing like Rushdie’s. Something like The Child In Time, or The Innocent, is a world away from The Satanic Verses, and both are among my favourite novels.

  2. Yes, I’d also exempt McEwan, especially the early works, from the accusation of being hollow prep-school bravado. I would, however, nominate Martin Amis and Graham Swift as befitting inclusion. These are the literary equivalent of Hugh Grant, one-trick ponies performing in a tiny space, telling stories no one cares about.

  3. Agree on Rushdie and his ilk, but have to disagree (partly) on Dan Brown. It’s not just the literati who dislike him, most people I know who’ve read the Da Vinci Code want that bit of their life back. It is a page turner granted, but one that when you finish, you look back on and think ‘is that it?’. It’s not that it’s bunkum, it’s badly written, derivative, predictable, unsatisfying bunkum.

    Give me a Stephen King novel instead anyday.

  4. I enjoyed the Da Vinci Code. It was an entertaining romp. I didn’t take it seriously and suspended disbelief for the duration and read it in one sitting. Yes, I guessed the outcome, but that’s part of the pleasure of reading those type of novels. As a teenager, I took great delight in trying to outguess Agatha Christie. I got that down to a fine art. I really, really don’t like King, but that’s a genre thing, nothing to do with the writing.

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