Leading academic condemns British novelists

Amis, McEwan and Rushdie are like "prep school boys showing off".

Gabriel Josipovici, a former Weidenfeld Professor of Comparative Literature at Oxford University, has issued a strong criticism of Britain's most prominent living authors. Speaking to the Guardian, Josipovici said that the contemporary British novel was "profoundly disappointing -- a poor relation of its groundbreaking modernist forebears". He continued:

Reading [Julian] Barnes, like reading so many other English writers of his generation -- Martin Amis, [Ian] McEwan -- leaves me feeling that I and the world have been made smaller and meaner. The irony which at first made one smile, the precision of language which was at first so satisfying, the cynicism which at first was used only to puncture pretension, in the end come to seem like a terrible constriction, a fear of opening oneself up to the world.

Referring to graduates of the University of East Anglia's celebrated creative writing course (whose number includes McEwan), he said:

They all tell stories in a way that is well crafted, but that is almost the most depressing aspect of it -- a careful craft which seems to me to be hollow.

Josipovici suggested that the problem was worse in Britain than elsewhere, but also criticised the American novelist Philip Roth.

For all Roth's playfulness -- a heavy-handed playfulness at the best of times -- he never doubts the validity of what he is doing or his ability to find a language adequate to his needs. As a result, his works may be funny, they may be thought-provoking, but only as good journalism can be funny and thought-provoking.

Josipovici's criticisms will feature in a forthcoming book, What Ever Happened to Modernism?

Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

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"The Anatolian Fertility Goddess": a poem by Fiona Pitt-Kethley

Across the Golden Horn in Karakoy. . . 

Across the Golden Horn in Karakoy,
a maze of ancient, crooked, cobbled streets
contains the brothels of old Istanbul.
A vendor at the bottom of the hill
sells macho-hot green chilli sandwiches.
A cudgel-wielding policeman guards the gate.
 
One year, dressed as a man, I went inside
(women and drunks are not allowed in there).
I mingled with the mass of customers,
in shirt, grey trousers, heavy walking boots.
A thick tweed jacket flattened out my breasts.
A khaki forage cap concealed my hair.
 
The night was young, the queues at doors were short.
Far down the street a crowd of men stood round
and watched a woman dancing in a house.
Her sixty, sixty, sixty figure poured inside
a flesh-tone, skin-tight, Lycra leotard,
quivered like milk-jelly on a shaken plate.
 
I’ve seen her type before in small museums –
primeval blobs of roughly sculpted stone –
the earliest form of goddess known to man.


Fiona Pitt-Kethley is a British poet, novelist and journalist living in Spain. Her Selected Poems was published in 2008 by Salt.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad