Could fiction fatigue mark the end of the novel in France? A recent article in Le Nouvel Observateur contemplates the state of the Gallic novel, following this year’s harvest of literary prizes (find out more about French literary awards here). “Are the winning books really novels?” it asks. Huh… I’ll admit the question had not crossed my mind.
The article recalls a much simpler past, where a novel was clearly fiction, and observes that today writers, editors and critics seem a lot less concerned with the whole idea of fiction. It takes a look at this year’s prestigious literary prize winners: the Prix Renaudot went to a “biographical investigation” (Limonov by Emmanuel Carrere), the Prix Femina went to an obituary (Jayne Mansfeld 1967) by Simon Liberati, and two books of memories—Rien ne s’oppose à la nuit by Delphine de Vigan and Ce qu’aimer veut dire by Mathieu Lindon—took the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Médicis, respectively. Only the Goncourt winner, it turns out, actually invented a main character.
Yet, the word “novel” sells, and keeps the books off of the back, dusty shelves among the essays. Could the French actually be crossing over to the dark side of marketing?
Well, it seems there is more than marketing going on here, according to editor Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens, who says, “authors are a little tired of fiction.” A few interviewed academics discuss the shift in meaning of the word “novel”, throwing in a good word for Americans who came up with the category “narrative non-fiction,” and the article concludes with the need for dictionaries to get their definitions straight before everything becomes fiction and then, “novels are no longer much of anything.”
Well, um, it seems to me that a good story is a good story, no matter what category you put it in, and that the above is quite well summed up by one reader’s comments: “Blah! Blah! Blah! Blah!”, followed by a quote from Voltaire: “All genres are good except the one that is boring.”