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No-one writes like Dickens

Posted on 19 October 2011 by Alice

The critics are unhappy. This year’s Man Booker prize winner Julian Barnes

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is not worthy – apparently. The Booker shouldn’t

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be about ‘readability’ they say, but high-quality literature.

Barnes. Rex Photo

Jeanette Winterson, writing in The Guardian, gives her two-pence worth:

I don’t see this row as one about dumbing down though. Rather, it is a misunderstanding about literature and its purpose. We are nervous about anything that seems elitist or inaccessible, and we apologise for the arts in a way that we never do for science.

She’s got a point. But she does hack into the choice of judge as well. Is it unfair?

In fiction we seem to want a kind of printed television. Why? The most unreadable books I have read recently were Stephenie Meyer‘s Twilight series. I did try to read Stella Rimington’s own spy series but instead I began to wonder if we would choose an enthusiastic member of a painting-by-numbers club to chair the Turner prize?

Yes, literature can be difficult and that is sometimes the idea, overtly so. But no-one writes like Dickens anymore. There’s popular fiction and then there’s everything else.

Who would have been Winterson’s preferred winner? Who knows.

“It’s easy, after all, not to be a writer. Most people aren’t writers, and very little harm comes to them.”

Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot


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