On The Death of The Novel, for New Humanist Magazine, published / by Rich Hobbs

They say that good things come to those who wait. So thirty years doesn’t

seem that long to wait for the collapse of neo-liberalism, given that its final

failure was so complete and comprehensive.

But something I’ve been waiting for for years is The Death of The

Novel. This has been promised over and over again, by academics and the

higher hacks, but still seems no closer. Thus The Novel continues its 300 year

old hegemony as the acme of human creation. This means that we carry on

venerating novelists, expected to endure the dreary opinions of people like

Martin Amis or Ian McEwan, unquestioningly accepting that, because they

can occasionally turn a slick phrase, they must be wiser than us. Worse, the

obvious rewards - swag, reverence, invites to smart parties - inspire everyone

else to seek the status of these shamans, so everyone - and I mean everyone -

is now assumed to "have a novel in them somewhere", like a fart or a tumour.

Forget the fact that most novels sell about 400 copies - if they’re

extraordinarily lucky; or that there’s more than enough books already to fill a

lifetime of constant reading. The real bugger about The Novel is the widely

held myth that it’s "realistic". Well, it is in the sense of a recent Guardian film

review, which commended a movie for its "hyper-realistic black and white

photography". That may well be true, but only if you’re colour blind. But

mostly our idea of "realism" in novels as well as movies - maybe even

"reality" itself - is just another highly artificial construct designed to help us

maintain a superior air of earnest misery.

And yet The Novel is one of the flimsiest receptacles for "reality"

imaginable. This was realised early when, in 1759, an obscure Yorkshire

vicar called Laurence Sterne successfully skewered The Novel with The Life

and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. For those of you who’ve never

read, or tried and given up, Tristram Shandy maintains the reputation Dr

Johnson gave it: "Nothing odd will do for long; Tristram Shandy did not


This judgement is odd in itself. The book has never been out of print;

more to the point, its oddness lies in its slavish fidelity to recreating reality as

it truly is. Tristram Shandy, to the joy of admirers from Hazlitt and Nietzsche

to Salman Rushdie and Her Majesty’s late Inspector of Prisons Judge Stephen

Tumin, is a long, rambling, digressive, funny, filthy, sentimental dirty joke,

but the best joke of all (which Tristram sadly acknowledges in Volume III,

when he still hasn’t got to his own birth) is that it’s both impossible and

ridiculous (if enormous fun) even to attempt recreating reality in The Novel.

Another thing I’ve been awaiting is someone to re-issue my 1996

comic book adaptation of Tristram Shandy, out of print for 12 long years. And

the wait was worth it. SelfMadeHero, a small, young publisher specialising in

graphic novelizations of the Classics, is bringing it out again in May. For

though I may still have a long wait for the final Death of The Novel, it’s

always reassuring to recall that Sterne gave it a delightful duffing up 250 years