What makes a contemporary novel a classic?
Discuss a book which you think fits the category of ‘modern classics’ and explain why. This is the question posed for this week by the ladies of the Blue Bookcase & if you ignore the inherent contradiction between the terms classic & contemporary & go to what I believe is the very heart of this idea, then my definition would be.
If a classic is a book that has transcended its place and time, whether that is through its ability to be understood as a definition of what it is to be human, or as a key to understanding that dilemma. Then a contemporary classic by definition would be, a novel that although written now would fulfil this criteria. So regardless of its subject matter it could be judged by this definition, by this I mean, whether we are discussing the spaceships from Mars 2156 or the cultural nuances of Augustine Rome 395-476, you may or may not understand all the cultural or technological references, but you can understand the humanity of the characters
.Following this lead my next problem is to break down my list of possible books, for example any one who just glances sideways at this blog, will expect me to have a Roberto Bolano book in this list, but which one 2666 has got to be a contender, if not already possessor of the prize, yet what about The savage detectives, Distant Star, Nazi Lit etc. In the end I decided to pick what is probably my favourite
Although this probably shouldn’t count, as it’s actually compiled from 2 previous collections (Llamadas Telefonicas & Putas Asesinas) of Bolano's, it doesn't feel bolted together & despite this, the book is addictive. By the time you've started the third story, you will belong to these characters, it will matter what happens to them. The French poet who shone in the resistance only to fadeout as a teacher in some remote village, the exiled writer who goes home to recover his sons body then languishes & dies, or just following Ann Moore's life from the age of 20 - 40. It will matter, fold the corner on the page, put the book down, leave the room & it will be there, just behind your eyes, in between your thought processes, it will be the beat that paces your journeys, it's shadow will dog your footsteps & your sleeping self, will continue to turn the pages.
As I’ve already started to take liberties, with my selection process, for my next choice I’ve decided to take “Contemporary” literally, as in “Belonging to the present time, Current, Very modern, Up to date” & the book in question was in contention for this years Man Booker Literary prize & although it lost out in the end, I’m making it my Contemporary Classic
Tom McCarthy plots a large story using a microscope, to zero in at certain aspects before pulling back for a wider perspective and this has a wide perspective, covering everything from the life cycle of silkworms, early telecommunications, through the first world war fighter planes and Egyptology. Using my definition of a classic, this book ticks all the boxes,the characters absolutely scream their humanity from the cries of a freshly swaddled babe to that final rattle alone with your thoughts, or your maker.
For my final choice I’m choosing another war based novel, I don’t know much about this author, having so far only managed two of his works so my choice is based on personal like & base ignorance, he may have written better books than my choice, but that's part of my journey as a reader. As a reader in the west, I’ve seen and read lots of stories about the war from a western perspective, this book and author introduced me to a different view, in the process fulfilling perfectly the role of good literature, that being to open your eyes to other worlds & through that increase your understanding.
The book starts as a prologue, with the visit to a “ shabbily constructed house, more like a shed than a Dr’s surgery” by an unnamed man seeking a Doctor for a routine injection. He meets Dr Suguro, whose faultless technique, but cold distant attitude, piques his curiosity. A while later, whilst at a family wedding, he meets another doctor who is a fellow guest, they get chatting & he finds out that the other doctor knew Suguro & through his tale we learn about Dr Suguro’s past.