A novel idea

Books , Criticism Jun 29, 2017 No Comments

In her celebrated 2008 essay, ‘Two Paths for the Novel,’ Zadie Smith set out to define exactly what it said on the label. There was Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, with its lyrical realism and “authentic story of a self,” and Tom McCarthy’s Remainder, which rejected the idea of an authentic self and presented instead “a glimpse at an alternate road down which the novel might, with difficulty, travel forward.” Both writers have been forced to labour under what the New Yorker once described as the article’s “long shadow” ever since.

Of course, Smith was in the middle of redefining herself as a novelist when she wrote that piece—it was published during the long hiatus between On Beauty and NW—and many read it as a veiled rejection of the “hysterical realism” of her earlier work. To that extent, it was also a kind of belated response to the piece in which that term of opprobrium first appeared, James Woods’ ‘Human, All Too Inhuman,’ which savaged David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, Don DeLillo’s Underworld, Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon, and, not least, Smith’s White Teeth.

Read the full article on The Monthly‘s website.

Matthew Clayfield

Matthew Clayfield is a journalist, critic and screenwriter.

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