In his essay in The Guardian, English writer Will Self recently argued that ‘literary fiction used to be central to the culture. No more: in the digital age, not only is the physical book in decline, but the very idea of ‘difficult’ reading is being challenged. The future of the serious novel is as a specialised interest.’ (The website says Will’s statement is an edited version of this year’s Richard Hillary memorial lecture, which will be given by Will Self on 6 May at the Gulbenkian theatre, St Cross Building, Oxford)
2. This does not mean that narrative prose fiction tout court is dying – the kidult boywizardsroman and the soft sadomasochistic porn fantasy are clearly in rude good health.
3. Serious novels will still be written and read but only as a specialised interest.
4. In the early 1980s, and throughout the second half of the last century, the literary novel was perceived to be the prince of art forms, the cultural capstone and the apogee of creative endeavour. This does not mean that everyone walked the streets with their head buried in Ulysses or To the Lighthouse, or that popular culture in all its forms didn’t hold sway over the psyches and imaginations of the great majority.
5. The omnipresent and deadly threat to the novel has been imminent now for a long time – getting on for a century – and so it’s become part of culture.