An interesting assertion, given that in the United States alone we see around 300,000 books published by the so-called traditional system each year — and, reportedly, around 50,000 of those are novels. That fails to include the 300,000 or more books that are author-published each year, a high percentage of which are surely also novels.
Those numbers are, frankly, low estimates.
It is thereby safe to assume that at the barest ittiest-bittiest tiniest-winiest minimum, over 100,000 novels enter our Literary Atmosphere every year. One. Hundred. Thousand.
(We do not see 100,000 films, television shows, or video games released every year, do we?)
Some of the biggest bestsellers of all time have been in the last 20 years.
The digital revolution has only multiplied the ways that people can read books.
But, of course, the novel is dead.
Total corpse. Nail the coffin shut, everyone. The stink must be contained.
Blah blah blah, buggy whips, typewriters, computers that fill entire rooms.
As if the novel is a piece of technology rather than a literary form.
The modern novel has been around for roughly 200 years, but novel-length fiction (ostensibly: a novel) has been around for thousands of years. And it won’t go away. Maybe ever. Because the novel is more than just a container. It’s a programming language. A narrative code to transmit stories, and within those stories lie various truths, ideas, lies about humanity. (And vampires. Lots of vampires. And I see nothing wrong with that because vampires are cool, shut up.)
The novel is not dead.
The novel is eternal.
Its parameters will change. Its market will shift.
Everyone will declare it dead again and again. It’s an old schtick, actually, easily a century-old already, and all the more tiresome for it. Tiresome like when Grandpa angrily squeezes his colostomy bag and cranks on about how JEOPARDY JUST ISN’T THE SAME ANYMORE or WHY AREN’T MOVIES NICE ANYMORE MOVIES USED TO BE NICE.
It’s like everyone forgets all over again.
Of course, what Will Self is really saying, literally and literarily, is that the literary novel, the SERIOUS NOVEL WRITTEN WITH GRAVE SERIOUSNESS THAT MAKES US ALL SERIOUS IN OUR SERIOUS CONTEMPLATION OF ITS SERIOUS BUSINESS is dead, and even that remains a dubious assertion, but just the same, all that means is a particular style of novel isn’t selling as well as you’d like. Just because someone will not publish or buy a half-ass literary novel does not mean that the entire novel form has eaten the twin barrels of an uncultured shotgun.
Of course, Will Self isn’t even saying that. Because he’s still writing and still publishing and he’s able to do that because the novel isn’t growing flowers out of its dead body.
The novel isn’t dead.
The novel will change.
The novel will grow
Our notions about the novel will change and grow.
Other forms will gain prominence and then shrink back.
And the novel keeps on keeping on.
Going forward, anyone who wants to pronounce it dead — find a new schtick, yeah? Let us instead pronounce that pronouncing novels dead is dead. Or, at least, really very unoriginal.