The Future

What has been most interesting in the 20th century has been the separating out of the respectable and the populist into groups seemingly not read or cared about by the same people. Most are perfectly happy to watch Fleming’s James Bond stories in film form and Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple stories on the television, and yet few admit to reading the original books. It would seem that fiction is now provided by the screen, ready mixed and presented as the director and financers want it, and we are locked in to the passive experience of watching and hearing. Increasingly, fiction seems to be what we live in (see television soap operas and suchlike) and life a rather tedious exercise that gets in the way of our vicarious and cold-blooded enjoyment of other people’s problems. It is hard to see the novel surviving as the minority interest it has become, becoming ever more self-conscious and intellectual. Authors now write for the screen (Graham Greene was the pioneer here and Martin Amis is a good modern example of this tendency) and many such as Stephen King and Michael Crichton publish books that are more screenplay than novel: objective, filmic and constructed primarily around dialogue. The symbiosis of novel and film may pass, but harking back to an age before the cinema will not necessarily produce good fiction. Films spawn bad books, books more often than not inspire bad films and one rarely goes without the other any more. It will be interesting to see whether it will be authors such as Nick Hornby with his fine, perceptive but unpretentious and allegedly ‘low-brow’ books that survive and gain respect in centuries to come as Austen’s social novels have, or the works of the literary heavyweights who win literary prizes on an annual basis. Of course, either way, no one will be proved right (because even posterity comes and goes) and fiction will roll on playing out the same old scenarios with a few new twists. Plus ca change

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