Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Novel tv or televisual novels...

Aliya’s post yesterday about novels doing what novels do and not what television does in terms of cliffhanger, motivation etc (read the post, then I won’t have to synopsise) got me thinking.
Is it true that modern novels are more like the telly than novels written before Edison et al got their heads round the cathode ray tube? Or is telly, as it were, the new novel form?

Do we, in fact, only need one form of essentially visual, linear storytelling and is it now the telly?

Let’s say visual and/or linear because a Jane Austen novel is a linear narrative but not all that visual – she does a ton of showing us how people are but tells us very little of what they look like – and she does dialogue wonderfully. So wonderfully that Andrew Davies, in patches, just quoted it in the BBC tv adaptation of P&P. So, if she were writing today, would she go for telly? Or radio plays? Would she be writing chick lit? Or would she be experimenting with her characters’ voices, a la Nicola Barker in Darkmans?

And, now that we have telly to do our linear narrative (because anything non-linear is deeply confusing on telly, at least to the likes of me.(Aargh, double parenthesising! Oh, who cares? - Imagine the scene – we are watching tv with the Ultimate Frisbee and the Bassist. Something happens. I say ‘What just happened?’ One of the boys explains ‘It’s a flashback to the time before he was a superhero.’ I say ‘When did he become a superhero?’ They say ‘In one of his previous lives but then he’s found himself in this reality…’ I look confused. I am confused. They say ‘I’ll explain it all at the end of the programme, Mum. It’s deeply depressing. You get the gist. )
Where was I? Oh yes, now that we have telly to do our linear narrative, should novels be doing something else? People like Jeanette Winterson clearly think so. So, perhaps, does Ms Barker.

So, what do we think? Is it genre-specific? Is it OK to be non-linear or experiment with form in literary novels but not in crime, thrillers etc?

Or are so called experimental novels not actually novels at all but some other form of fiction?
Finnegan’s Wake anybody?
(And yes, I have read it…)

1 comment:

KAREN said...

I don't want novels to start doing anything different, but I'm old-fashioned like that :o)

If Jane Austen were alive today she'd be bored with chick-lit and be writing pscycho-thrillers!

I think experimental novels CAN be called novels, providing they're not all about the Experiment. I've heard Finnegan's Wake described as 'a novel for people who are tired of reading novels,' which suggest it's something different altogether!