Hysterical realism

Prospect Magazine

Hysterical realism

by
/ / Leave a comment

Zadie Smith’s “White Teeth” is the latest in a new genre of over-heated realist novels. Are they just imitating Dickens without the emotional force?

a genre is hardening. It is becoming possible to describe today’s “big, ambitious novel.” Familial resemblances are asserting themselves, and a parent can be named: Dickens. Such recent novels as Rushdie’s The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon, DeLillo’s Underworld, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth overlap rather as the pages of an atlas expire into each other at their edges.

The big contemporary novel is a perpetual motion machine. Stories and sub-stories sprout on every page, flaunting their glamorous congestion. Vitality is storytelling, as far as these books are concerned. A parody would go like this. If a character is introduced in London (call him Toby Awknotuby, ie “To be or not to be”-ha!) then we will be swiftly told that he has a twin in Delhi (called Boyt: an anagram of Toby), who, like Toby, has the same curious genital deformation, and

You need to be logged in to see this part of the content. Please either subscribe or Login to access.

Leave a comment





Share this







Most Read






Prospect Buzz

  • Prospect's masterful crossword setter Didymus gets a shout-out in the Guardian
  • The Telegraph reports on Nigel Farage's article on Lords reform
  • Prospect writer Mark Kitto is profiled in the New York Times


Prospect Reads

  • Do China’s youth care about politics? asks Alec Ash
  • Joanna Biggs on Facebook and feminism
  • Boris Berezosky was a brilliant man, says Keith Gessen—but he nearly destroyed Russia