Everyone’s a novelist

David Sexton, Literary Editor of London’s Evening Standard, bemoans the proliferation of sub-par novels by the likes of Naomi Campbell, Sophie Dahl, and Jimmy Carter:

Bad novelists all believe they are good novelists. In fact, almost everybody believes he or she might just be a good novelist, even if he or she hasn’t got round to trying it yet. The delusion is just as common among intellectuals, successful businessmen and knowing journalists as among the more naive. It is very strange. Nobody would attempt to give a piano recital without having first learned to play the piano. People realise they cannot make a satisfactory chest of drawers, or even a serviceable cheeseboard, without having acquired some skill in carpentry. They know they are not competent as dentists or plumbers, if they have not had any experience or training. Yet they think that they can write a novel by some natural gift.

In one dreadful sense, they are right, of course. They can produce long pieces of prose that look, at a glance, quite like novels, divided as they are into chapters, spaced out into paragraphs, with dialogue indicated and sentences regularly punctuated. Characters have been devised and named and stories told, up to a point. Then, if the author has some other claim to fame, such as having been briefly a ropey leader of the Conservative Party, these productions are printed and published. But nonetheless they bear about the same resemblance to true novels as the lines of meaningless type produced by Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining.


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