Monday, November 10, 2008

Lyrical Realism or Constructive Deconstruction?

In the current issue of the New York Review of Books, there’s an interesting critical essay by Zadie Smith (“Two Paths for the Novel”) about “the future for the Anglophone novel.” Smith posits that there are two types of novels—those that travel down the road we have come to expect and those that don’t—and that, citing Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland as an example, “lyrical Realism has had the freedom of the highway for some time now.” According to Smith, Netherland is “so precisely the image of what we have been taught to value in fiction that it throws that image into a kind of existential crisis ….” Smith recognizes, “I have written in this tradition myself and cautiously hope for its survival ….”

On the other end of the spectrum are novels like Tom McCarthy’s Remainder, which Smith describes as “a kind of anti-literature hoax” that “[m]eticulously [] works through the things we expect of a novel, gleefully taking them apart, brick by brick.” Smith believes novels like Remainder aim to “shake the novel out of its present complacency” an aim she clearly supports since she describes Remainder as “one of the great English novels of the past ten years.”


Steph said...

I read and enjoyed Smith's "White Teeth", and I respect her greatly as a writer. But I also read Tom McCarthy's "Remainder" and while I thought it was interesting in some regards, I certainly wouldn't call it one of the greatest novels of the past 10 years. So perhaps I don't care for Smith as a reader. If she's looking for great novels, maybe she should look at "The Road" by another one of those McCarthy writers...

À chacun son goût, I suppose.

Shivaji28 said...

I, too, just read Zadie Smith's very thought provoking article in NYRB, "Two Paths for the Novel." I found this website while trying get a definition for "lyrical realism." I know about "magic reality," the literary technique that weaves ethnic myths with social reality, culminating in a literary language such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Salman Rushdie. But lyrical realism, the practitioners of which I understand (from the Smith article)to be novelists like Balzac and Flaubert tweaks my curiosity.

I am also reading Junot Diaz' Pulitzer Prize Winning novel, "Oscar Wao," a rumbunctiously written American novel about the Dominicans of New Jersey and New York. The language is an intricate amalgamation of English and Spanish (but not Spanglish), full of unbridled profanity, street English co-mingling with surprisingly elitist English. Yet there is a haunting lyricism to the language. The result is breathtaking, a comic epic poem in prose, as Henry Fielding used to say in the Eighteenth Century.

To me, "lyrical realism," is therefore, essentially a matter of style, a style that -- as Zadie points out -- forces us to reevaluate the standard, oft-repeated values of literature, or about a genre.

I will be grateful for some comments on lyrical realism.