Loads of Learned Lumber

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Knausgaard vs. "speculative fiction"

FOR ADMIRERS OF genre fiction, I often have occasion to notice, it is not enough that their favorite reading sells by the truckload and is readily available at airports, drugstores, and such. No, they are not satisfied with mere popularity; they envy literary fiction's prestige, reduced to rags though it is.

Case in point, Marcel Theroux's review of Michel Faber's The Book of Strange New Things in the November 2 New York Times Book Review,  which after several hyperbolic paragraphs ends so: "Defiantly unclassifiable, 'The Book of Strange New Things' is, among other things, a rebuke to the credo of literary seriousness for which there is no higher art than a Norwegian man taking pains  to describe his breakfast cereal."

Oh, is it, now? It will take more than big scoops of praise for Jules Verne's latest descendant for me to feel rebuked, I can tell you that, especially since the praise admits--e.g., in the phrase "taking a standard science fiction premise and unfolding it with the patience and focus of a tai chi master"--that the work in question squats squarely within the familiar tropes of its genre.

Obviously, The Book of Strange New Things is another instance of the kind of thing one likes  if one likes this kind of thing--not that strange and not that new, certainly not as strange and new as a writer persuading you, for the first time in your life, to be mindful of your breakfast cereal.

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