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Fictional failure

British fiction is thriving, according to publishers. But having read countless novels as a Booker judge, Jason Cowley is disenchanted by the shallowness of Britain's literary vision. Is it a passing bad patch or a sign of long-term cultural decline?

By Jason Cowley   December 1997

To attend the Booker prize dinner in October was to understand why a sad twilight has settled on contemporary literary culture. This was a year of levelling mediocrity for the British novel. You might have thought otherwise, listening to publishers at Guildhall lament the exclusion of their own “great” novels from the shortlist and boast of the enduring vitality of British fiction. We should not be surprised by such nonsense; we live in a time of cultural inflation-as the frisson of notoriety surrounding the Royal Academy’s Sensation exhibition dismally reminds us.

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