Spare time, like the sun, has not been hanging around my neighbourhood of late. For this reason – amongst undisclosed others – I have not been able to delve as deeply into my Greatest Novels list as much as I had hoped. I would like to take this opportunity, therefore, to make a few general points; to hover hopefully above, in all my kestrelesque glory, forever surveying the lie of the land. To put it another way, I would like at this juncture to bring you up to date with a complaint or two arising from said list.
Like all true critics, I start with an excuse. Let me say this. There was never an occasion on which I suggested that my Greatest Novels List was designed with any sort of perfection in mind. I never claimed that its results would be in any way ‘comprehensive’, or that – when all the reviews were collected – it would give anything other than an incomplete image of the European literary scene. I have, I hope, never been presumptuous enough to pretend that I can lay chaos aside for more than a second or so. It can’t be done.
In light of this, I am not ashamed to see my list criticised. Nor am I tempted to dismiss such criticism. I always said that there would be mistakes; which wasn’t to say I didn’t care about the mistakes – rather than I knew that, having appeared (according to the laws of Mr. and Mrs. Inevitability) a time would come when they could be confronted with more ease. That time, quoth the cliché, is now. So here we go:
General Point regarding the Greatest Novels List, No 1: The Absense of Texts which appear to deal directly with Religion.
‘Appear’ may be the operative word here. Or is it ‘directly’? I suppose the point I am making is that I find something rather tiresome about novels which are built around the kernel of a single ‘big’ subject. Show me a great novel that is essentially ‘about God’? Show me the opposite and I’ll be equally impressed.
But I am, perhaps, avoiding the issue. What is seen to be missing are not books that deal, at significant length, with God (or gods) per se, but with institutionalised religion. To put it yet another way, where is Tibor Tibetti’s Artificial Light or Moses Mayeau’s The Rain it Works? Most obviously, where is Ingemar Glozon’s A Thousand Men – one of the few novels I know to have been unofficially banned by the liberal press for its rigidly pro-Catholic content?
These novels are, I confess, conspicuously absent. Critics do seem to have consciously shied away from them. Why? This, as they say, is the question.
More on a related subject (leading to what may or may not be an answer to this query) later.