Julian Barnes on Novel

Novel seems to be quite a complex form – one that calls for a high degree of mastery – from both the writer and the reader. Not just because they are long with their own plotlines and sub-plots and unity connecting dots like a subtle net.

One of the brightest contemporary British novelists Julian Barnes has a take on it:

‘Novels tell us the most truth about life: what it is, how we live it, what it might be for, how we enjoy and value it, how it goes wrong, and how we lose it. Novels speak to and from the mind, the heart, the eye, the genitals, the skin; the conscious and the subconscious. What it is to be an individual, what it means to be part of a society. What it means to be alone…’

[…]

And

‘Novels are like cities: some are organised and laid out with the colour-coded clarity of public transport maps, with each chapter marking a progress from one station to the next, until all the characters have been successfully carried to their thematic terminus. Others, the subtler, wiser ones, offer no such immediately readable route maps. Instead of a journey through the city, they through you into the city itself, and life itself: you are expected to find your own way. And their structure and purpose may not be immediately apparent, being based on the tacit network of ‘loans, debts, repayments and foreclosures’ that makes up human relationships. Nor do such novels move mechnaically; they stray, they pause, they lollop, as life does, except with a greater purpose and hidden structure.’

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