Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The Shock of the Novel

The folks over at The Millions are making a strong bid for the title of “the VH1 of Books Blogs” with their countdown of The Best Fiction of the Millennium (So Far). And I thought Sainsbury’s was jumping the gun when they put the Christmas aisle up at the end of August. There’s no detectable humour in the introduction, so I feel relatively safe in assuming that this is an example of our culture’s obsession with hierarchical list-making, rather than an ironic “critique” of it.

The sheer hubris of The Millions’ venture is remarkable. They could have played it safe, and gone with The Decade (So Far), or even The Century (So Far). But the Millennium? Pitting the literary output of the last nine years against almost everything we think of when we think of literature? If Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections is the best we can find for number one, then all this list proves is that none of the books on it will likely be remembered in 1000 years at all. Perhaps Franzen can compete with the best of the Nineties’, maybe the Eighties’; but beyond that? It’s like forcing a child into a boxing ring because he can beat up his older brother.