Critics have been predicting the death of the novel for so long that some people take for granted that the future, if not the present, belongs to movies. Is this a fair assumption?
Allan Massie, the Scottish journalist and novelist, recently considered the question in the Spectator, the British weekly. One often-heard explanation, Massie noted, is just as the theater yielded to the novel, the novel has yielded to the film: “Our culture has become visual rather than literary.” He responded:
“Some truth to this. Even though film still draws on novels and short stories, it has become a less literary medium in the last quarter-century. Cinema offers more immediate sensations and it generally requires less of its audience, which is essentially passive, than the serious novel does of the reader.”
Massie added that others say that narratives in print have gone out of fashion:
“In truth these explanations are less than convincing. Film hasn’t superseded the novel. As a medium for examining the way we live and the way we should live, film has for the most part proved wretchedly inadequate. Its ability to explore moral or ethical questions is slight, because such exploration must be verbal, and film deals in images. Film is the great simplifier, and that is part of its charm. …
“No need, therefore, to ring the funeral bell. The aspiring novelist needs only courage, intelligence, imagination, a keen eye, and the belief that writing novels remains the best way of telling aqnd showing how it is. “
Massie’s comment appeared in a Life & Letters column called “The Death of the Novel” in the July 28, 2008, issue of the Spectator www.spectator.co.uk, but doesn’t appear on its Web site.
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.