As I’m an English graduate from a university with a certain – shall we say – profile, people expect me to gravitate towards the prize-winning end of the spectrum in my choice of fiction.
Not an unreasonable expectation, I suppose; but, as it happens, wide of the mark.
Of course, I smile gratefully when the said expecters make me gifts of the latest Man-Booker (or whatever we’re calling it this year) but the real gratitude is reserved for something with a bit more narrative drive and a bit less angst-exploration. (I mean, what is The Great American Novel, to take a literary category at random, but angst-exploration, when all’s said and done?)
It’s not that I don’t try. I want to like the fiction of people whose views on life I often agree with. I love listening, for instance, to the passionately articulate and lucid Jeanette Winterson but, apart from Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, her adult fiction is not for me.
In essence, my reading tastes haven’t really changed since I graduated from Enid Blyton to Leslie Charteris and Alistair Maclean – I’m a fan of narrative. No, more than a fan, I absolutely require a strong narrative in whatever I’m reading. Otherwise, what’s the point? If you don’t want narrative, you can read essays, journalism, non-fiction books.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not averse to having my thoughts provoked. Far from it, if a book is really going to engage me, it needs to make me think and I’m as likely to abandon a book for being too formulaic and peopled by cartoon characters as I am to put it aside as being too literary.
But if thoughts are not provoked in the context of a well-structured narrative arc, then I’m not interested in reading any given novel.
Or, for that matter, writing it.