Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Neil Ayres Essay on Magic Realism

At the request of the Man Booker Prize folks, Neil Ayres has published an essay on the topic of Magic Realism. It's a nice read; I heartily recommend it.

Among other matters, Neil mentions a British "class system" for novels. The same exists in the US, with one puzzling exception: it's okay for anyone on this side of the Atlantic, even the pretentiously literary, to admit to a fondness for mysteries. (This wasn't always so; folks like Raymond Chandler weren't taken at all seriously in the US in their prime, though the British critics were quick to recognize his talent.)

Part of what Neil grapples with in the essay is why writers like Jonathan Carroll and Neil Gaiman aren't considered Magic Realists. I'd never really thought about this before. Gaiman I can explain away as writing too much straight-ahead fantasy. But in the case of the vastly underrated Carroll, I have to confess that Magic Realism is probably the best description of what he is doing. God knows that his distinctive books don't fit comfortably in any other category I can name.

9 comments:

Neil said...

Sir, you are a gentleman.

David Isaak said...

Actually, I'm not. But you, sir, write fine essays. And good fiction, too (god preserve your heathen soul).

sboydtaylor said...

Very interesting. I'm not sure if I'm convinced that Magical Realism is anything other than a sub-genre of fantasy with a very precise set of tropes.

Essentially, the only difference between the genres is they each have a different target market: literati on one hand, geeks on the other.

Because of the difference in market, different magazines, publishers, and agents are involved in each genre. Division by specialization.

They're still not different species yet. They can still interbreed.

Sam Taylor said...

BTW, that's me. I got tired of having to type my name every time.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Sam--

You new handle is noted.

Someone--I can't recall whom--said that categorization of fiction is extremely useful to everyone except the author. It allows booksellers to stuff it into a certain section of the store, it helps marketing people position it, it even helps as a shorthand when we want to talk about it in a generalized fashion. It just doesn't really help that much when you have to write it, becasue stories refuse to be nailed down.

Jake Jesson said...

Very interesting essay - thanks for the link!

I still have yet to read any 'true' magic realists besides Borges. "One Hundred Years of Solitude" is on my reading list, though.

About Carroll - though I have yet to read anything by him (feel free to recommend something!), I have heard of him referred to as a magic realist. Couldn't tell you where, though.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Jake--

Neil did an interesting job, didn't he? And he knows a whole lot more about the topic than I do, that's fer sure.

Borges is a god. I've never been sure if he's really a Migic Realist, though, despite what the critics say. I'm not even sure her writes fiction. Borges is just Borges.

Jonathan Carroll. Oh, my. His debut, "Land of Laughs" is pretty wonderful, and just reissued. "Voice of Our Father" is great, though originally promoted as part of the king/Straub tidal wave of horror. I like "The Marriage of Sticks," which is Carroll's reality/ imagination/ fantasy blurring at its finest. Even stars like Neil Gaiman doff their hats to Carroll as the real thing--whatever that thing is...

What's up here, anyhow? I just published a thriller, and it seems that all I've talked about for the last week or two are fantasy writers.

Arwel Owen said...

Hi David,

It's always good to hear of other people raving about Carroll. He's a fantastic writer and a true gentleman. BTW - The book you refer to above is 'Voice of our Shadow', not 'Father'; a wonderful book, no matter what the title!

Jake - I'd recommend The Panic Hand as an introduction to Carroll. It's a collection of short stories, which should be enough to give you a taste of what Carroll is capable of.

Best,

Arwel.

David Isaak said...

Right you are, Arwel--Voice of Our SHADOW. See what happens when my fingers start thinking for themselves?

In any case, Jake, you'll find that both "Voice of Our Shadow" and "Panic Hand" are out of print in the US, so you may have to do some digging. "Land of Laughs" was recently reissued.