The Literary Blog Hop is a weekly event held at The Blue Bookcase prompting book bloggers to answer a question.
What makes a contemporary novel a classic?
This is another tricky question. First of all, I am not sure we can consider a contemporary novel a classic. My definition of a classic would be those works that have survived through the ages, and we can not be sure which works are going to survive. Some works might be popular now, but they might not be relevant to future generations. I would also equate the classics with canonical literature, that is works which feature in the curriculum; however, this is another subjective and slippery concept. I believe that what we might consider as contemporary classics are the works that have received much attention and honourable awards, such as the Booker’s Prize, or that are regularly featured in “top” lists published by newspapers and such. Again, this is extremely subjective.
I believe that the contemporary novels that will survive and become classics are literary novels making a strong commentary on our society and displaying literary characteristics that will be deemed as representative of our age (possibly illustrating some literary movements, although I believe writers do not necessarily use techniques in order to be part of a movement, but rather because they suit their purposes).
Once more, I am going to choose an example by Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale. I would have liked to consider an Irish novel but I cannot think of one that would be considered as a classic rather than an Irish classic. This reflection actually foregrounds another dimension to the definition of a classic: classics will most likely come from English or American literature (although this is changing, but I do not find this evolution striking enough yet). However, Atwood, who is from Canada, a country on the margins, is recognised as a major author in a large part of the world. Her works are translated in many languages and are studied in many schools and universities worldwide, but not necessarily as part of a course on Canadian studies, which I find highly significant. I remember that The Handmaid’s Tale used to be part of the curriculum in Nantes University (although I left the course before reaching that year and studied instead Lady Oracle as part of my Irish degree; again, Atwood was one of the rare authors who were not Irish or English/American in our course). I believe The Handmaid’s Tale is/will become a classic. Like George Orwell’s 1984, it is a dystopian novel set in a near future. Its themes are universal and contemporaneous and it makes a harsh critique of society and its ideological discourses. Technically, the novel displays postmodernist characteristics, while not adhering strictly to the movement (if it can ever be called a movement). I can also be read from a feminist perspective, despite its ambiguity towards the Feminist movement. I think its concerns with language and storytelling will also be features why this novel will be remembered. Although this is not my favourite novel by Atwood, I believe it is probably the one that had been deemed as the most important, thus giving it the status of a classic.
I hope I am not boring you by mentioning Atwood once again, but her works are at the moment part of my everyday life and I find it difficult to avoid discussing her works on a regular basis.
Now, time to read what others think!