John Bayley

Today’s intelligentsia does not seem to go for new highbrow novels; and middlebrow readers with the fiction habit who sometimes have to make do with them would probably prefer something more nourishing and comforting, as well as something that takes itself less seriously. For how seriously today’s novel takes itself was what one felt after getting through a record number – 130 – for this year’s Booker Prize judging. There were some that did not of course, and they came to be recognised and greeted as a spot of relief. But no wonder there seems to be an impasse on the fiction counters today. Whoever still buys and reads ‘serious’ novels would presumably prefer to be buying something else: Booker-type shortlisted novels are not going like hot cakes, and indeed the ‘serious’ novel today often seems rather a shoddy affair.

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[*] You Can’t Do Both was published by Hutchinson on 15 September (306 pp., £15.99, 0 09 178262 7).