Sean Lindsay on The Great Australian Novel

Sean Lindsay, proprietor of the "101 Reasons to Stop Writing Weblog", is interviewed by the good people on the Jossip website. Sean has some interesting things to say about The Great Australian Novel (caps compulsory). It doesn't start out that way, but bear with it:

What's the deal with the great American novel? Why does everyone want to write it?

When people talk of the "Great American Novel", what they mean in more concrete terms is "The Book Everyone Reads". Every writer dreams of writing the book that is foisted on every teenager in high school English class, and the guaranteed sales, frequent movie adaptations and honorary doctorates that come with it.

There's no consensus on what constitutes the Great American Novel, which leads some writers with Ozymandian egos to think they're going to write it. You never hear debate over the Great Russian Novel, because it's War and Peace. The only discussion about the Great English Novel is which Dickens novel it is. There is zero discussion over the Great Australian Novel, because there are no great Australian novels.

It's also because of Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, which would certainly be on the shortlist for the Great American Novel if such a list existed. Lee is a perfect example of a writer who did the honourable thing after producing her masterpiece -- she stopped writing. She didn't whittle away her reputation on increasingly erratic minor novels and getting into fistfights with other ageing writers. But she's also a terrible counterexample: her best work was her debut, providing a convenient exception to the rule that you have to 'hone' your writing talent over years and hundreds of thousands of words. Now all aspiring Great American Novelists cling to the Harper Lee Fantasy that they will magically produce a masterwork, when they eventually get around to writing. It's the literary equivalent of aspiring to win the lottery.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on January 22, 2008 10:12 AM.

Australian Bookcovers #98 - Collected Stories by Peter Carey was the previous entry in this blog.

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