The Global Novel
Margaret Atwood, ColmTóibín, Aleksandar Hemon, David Grossman, Sulaiman Addonia and Sunjeev Sahota moderated by Chiki Sarkar
Char Bagh, Sponsored by ZEE Entertainment
By Swastika Jajoo and Shivani Bhasin, Official ZEE JLF 2016 Bloggers
‘The novel formulated for us what no other vehicle of imagination has done. The novel is a sanctuary for me.’David Grossman
The novel has emerged as the eminent literary form of our age. Irish writer ColmTóibín attributed this to the inclusive space of the novel’s form, which encompasses theatre’s dialogue and monologue, the confessional of a religious text, and poetic rhythm. As readers, we share in the characters’ journeys as they confront their destinies; journeys that are not so different from our own. People turns to novels to ‘believe in themselves.’
However, Bosnian-born fiction writer Aleksandar Hemon contested the popularity of novels in present times, arguing that reading was diminishing and the monopoly of the novel as the form that best captures human experience no longer holds. He suggested that television shows are becoming increasingly significant for most people, such as The Sopranos,which depicted the reality of living under the Bush era in America far better than any novel could.
Margaret Atwood disagreed with Hemon’s views, claiming that novels will always retain the greater relevance. For her, ‘the novel can take you into the reality of the time,’ yet itself holds timeless appeal. She predicted that as a medium, it would last longer in public consciousness than television, whose strength lay largely in the immediacy of the visual form.
Elaborating on the timeless nature of the novel, Tóibín referred to James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, describing it as ‘a shimmering, glittering form that changes as time changes.’ He said that Joyce could never have predicted the afterlife that Ulysses has enjoyed. Even though the book did not find an immediate audience at the time of its publication, it came to possess a ‘strange and binding power’ many years later: ‘the book would suggest that there is another way to live, that the self finds different ways of expanding its consciousness and that there is another way to be open about sexuality and desire’.
The panel considered whether a more appropriate title than ‘the global novel’ was‘the universal novel,’ since the novel reaches across time and space. Israeli novelist David Grossman pointed out that although a novel might be written in a particular language, from a particular region, it can still resonate with readers around the world because it deals with universal aspects of the human nature,like love, courage, and loss.
British-Sudanese-Eritrean novelist Sulaiman Addonia questioned this, noting the colour bias he faced as a writer in a world of white privilege: ‘if you’re writing as a ‘British- Sudanese-Eritrean novelist, then perhaps people won’t let you write a universal novel.’ Grossman disagreed, speaking of the tremendous effect that Season of Migration to the North had on him. He described the Sudanese novel by Tayeb Salih’s as one of essential humanity, about lives filled with great suffering and great courage.
The panel agreed thatthe novel, despite competition from television and the digital age, would continue to be a great chronicler of human experience. According to Atwood, ‘the novel, good or bad, is still the work of one individual, usually. It is a human voice.’In the sea of confusion that governs modern times, the individual voice reminds us of our shared humanity. Storytelling comes as naturally to humans as breathing. The novel will go on.