At the end of a column for the Financial Times (really?) in which Glendenning comments about Dan Brown’s new book among other things, she heaps scorn on Canadianisms like eavestrough instead of gutter and quaintness like tuque and toque which is not “the lofty headgear worn by Queen Mary but is actually a little woolly hat.” But she also says there are an awful lot of terrible novels being written. “If you want to get your novel published, be Canadian,” she concludes, implying that subsidy programs are supporting much bad writing.
Noah Richler trashed her the next day in The Globe, most severely for being an ungracious guest. Certainly it does seem a little nasty to comment like that before the Giller winners are announced. But she does have a point: a lot of garbage is being published.
I’ve served on a couple of juries over the last few years, and found books whose grammar on the first few pages was so appalling that I threw them in the “No” pile almost immediately. I’ve also been sent books for review which I suspect nobody besides a conscientious reviewer or a close friend of the author could finish.
But how does this differ from the situation in any other country?
Most years I try to give the books on the short lists for the French (not French-Canadian but from France) prizes a quick once-over, and certainly there is a lot of dross among them too. Same thing, I’m sure, in the UK and other countries including the US. The problem is that genius is very thin on the ground, and that very few books are going to live past the decade they were published in.
But that does not mean that fewer books should be published, if only because the writer who produces a flawed novel today may have something really great in prospect. An example is Yann Martel. If you’d only read his brilliant short story collection and his failed first novel Self (awful, awful, awful, in my humble opinion) you’d say: what a talent wasted. And then he wrote The Life of Pi, a truly successful adventure story, in all the senses of the term. Go figure.