Hugh Grant and the novel
Cervantes invented the novel but in Spain, where fanatics ruled, his work was considered light reading
Last summer I read an article on the future of the novel. I learned I must be the last of the ignorant yokels who believe that the novel still has a future. I wondered why the novel is thought to be dying, and soon found the answer. Some years ago, the Los Angeles police arrested the actor Hugh Grant when a professional was performing oral sex on him in the back seat of a car. A scandal ensued, and his career seemed to be in danger. A journalist asked him a very American question: "Do you go to a psychotherapist?" "No," he answered. "In England we read novels."
Impossible to put it better. Cervantes invented the novel but in Spain, where fanatics ruled, his work was considered light reading - pulp fiction. Only foreigners, particularly the English, saw its greatness, and adopted the invention. This is why the English and the Anglo Saxons in general, are inclined to laugh at talk about the future of the novel. They just write them, and do it well. They can keep Gibraltar, for all I care; if they gave us back the novel and kept Gibraltar it would be a good bargain. This is why Don Quixote has always seemed more of an English novel than a Spanish one.
The writers consulted in the article say that the novel is now only mere entertainment, not a serious thing, and they are right. The problem is not that the novel is no longer serious, but that it never was. Those who say that Don Quixote or Ulysses are serious books fail to see what they are about. As well as being monumental jokes, they are profound books. How do they manage this? Cervantes created the modern novel, equipping it with two fundamental rules. The first is that the novel is a genre without rules: one of total liberty. The second is that the novel is the paradise of irony, understood as an instrument of knowledge. Don Quixote is a madman fit for the funny farm, but he is also replete with common sense and wisdom. He is ridiculous, but also the most noble and valiant of knights. This is irony: the key that opens the doors to truth, revealing to us the fact that it is almost always multi-faceted, that things may be not just one thing, but one thing and the contrary.
I don't know what the future of the novel is. I would say that it has one, and that this depends on novelists.
This will never be understood by fanatics, and this is why fanatics have always detested the novel. Hence our ancestors in the 17th century ignored Cervantes, and he was taken up by the English, who then began, by means of science and the novel, to create modernity. Hence the fact that modernity can be described as the struggle of novelesque irony against the stupid solemnity of fanaticism. This is what Hugh Grant was saying, ironically, to his fanatical interviewer: that the thing was not of such consequence; that to call him a sex addict was neither here nor there; that the fellatio was his business and no one else's; in short, that he could go screw himself.
I don't know what the future of the novel is. I would say that it has one, and that this depends on novelists. If they are arrogant, lazy and cowardly, it will die. If they are not, it will live for many years, so many that it may end by demonstrating that, far from being on its deathbed, it is merely in its cradle. After all, it is a genre that, as such, has only been going for about a century and a half, and is thus by far the youngest of the great literary genres. However that may be, one thing is certain: if they ever build a paradise for the fanatics and the therapists, don't expect to find me there. Like Hugh Grant, I still prefer novels.