What makes a good writer? Is writing an expression of self, or, as TS Eliot argued, ‘an escape from personality’? Do novelists have a duty? Do readers? Why are there so few truly great novels? Zadie Smith on literature’s legacy of honourable failure
Saturday January 13, 2007
… If it’s true that first-rate novels are rare, it’s also true that what we call the literary canon is really the history of the second-rate, the legacy of honourable failures. Any writer should be proud to join that list just as any reader should count themselves lucky to read them. The literature we love amounts to the fractured shards of an attempt, not the monument of fulfilment. The art is in the attempt, and this matter of understanding-that-which-is-outside-of-ourselves using only what we have inside ourselves amounts to some of the hardest intellectual and emotional work you’ll ever do. It is a writer’s duty. It is also a reader’s duty.
* hat tip to Luna Park Review