Novels don’t need to be ‘nice’

Excellent article in the Guardian today about the way literary criticism has degenerated into not much more than a vague, fluffy appreciation of the characters as “sympathetic” people. (First clue about the intellectual bankruptcy of this approach – characters in books are not people.)

Anyway, worth a read.

Novels don’t need to be ‘nice’ | Books |


5 thoughts on “Novels don’t need to be ‘nice’

  1. David Matheson

    This really grinds my gears – there’s a (two-star) review of Freedom on Amazon (from someone who didn’t managed to finish the book) saying that male readers wouldn’t be very interested in Patty because she’s a woman, but that she becomes quite likeable once you learn she’s been raped. There are just so many things wrong with that.

    I remember that a lot of reviews of The Humbling (and, for that matter, Sabbath’s Theatre) focused on how awful (in a moral sense) the characters were. I think people are used to anti-heroes rather than ambiguity or moral turpitude nowadays. Vollmann writes in the intro. to Dirty Snow that we know Frank (was it Frank?) is beyond redemption/evil/whatever from the beginning, and we’re never asked to think anything else, which is what gives the novel such power. When I think about powerful novels I think V., The Royal Family, Freedom – none of these have ‘nice’ characters, but they pulse with genuine human…something.

    There can be something irredeemably dull about nice characters as well. Murakami (who I love) populates his book with actually quite irritating psuedo-philosophic sleepwalkers. It’s always his prose style or plotlines I remember, never his characters (with the possible exception of Kafka on the Shore), even in his most ‘human’ works like South of the Border, West of the Sun.

    I’m reading Diary of an Oxygen Thief at the moment, which is pretty much the perfect case study for this kind of discussion.


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