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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Emerging Genre: The Neuronovel?

My RSS feed to the Readers Advisor Online blog is always pointing me toward new issues and interesting RA related links.  In this case Cindy Orr posted this article by Marco Roth about the Neuronovel.  Here's the first paragraph:
The last dozen years or so have seen the emergence of a new strain within the Anglo-American novel. What has been variously referred to as the novel of consciousness or the psychological or confessional novel—the novel, at any rate, about the workings of a mind—has transformed itself into the neurological novel, wherein the mind becomes the brain. Since 1997, readers have encountered, in rough chronological order, Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love (de Clérambault’s syndrome, complete with an appended case history by a fictional “presiding psychiatrist” and a useful bibliography), Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn (Tourette’s syndrome), Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (autism), Richard Powers’s The Echomaker (facial agnosia, Capgras syndrome), McEwan again with Saturday (Huntington’s disease, as diagnosed by the neurosurgeon protagonist), Atmospheric Disturbances (Capgras syndrome again) by a medical school graduate, Rivka Galchen, and John Wray’s Lowboy (paranoid schizophrenia). And these are just a selection of recently published titles in “literary fiction.” There are also many recent genre novels, mostly thrillers, of amnesia, bipolar disorder, and multiple personality disorder. As young writers in Balzac walk around Paris pitching historical novels with titles like The Archer of Charles IX, in imitation of Walter Scott, today an aspiring novelist might seek his subject matter in a neglected corner or along some new frontier of neurology. (full article link)
Whether or not this is an emerging genre or just a trend, from the RA standpoint, this article has some practical applications right now. I  have encountered many patrons who have enjoyed one of these titles and come to me for something similar. Honestly, I have never thought to think of the appeal of the neurological aspects of the novel. Sure I have asked people who liked Motherless Brooklyn if they liked that the narrator had Tourette's, but I have never thought to expand that appeal to any "novel of consciousness." If that is what the reader enjoyed, this article contains a treasure trove of read alike options.

And it isn't as if I am unfamiliar with these titles. I have read many of them and know quite a bit about the rest. These are popular titles.  It is just that while we are in the trenches helping readers, we sometimes loose track of the larger picture. That is why no matter how good a Readers' Advisor you are, we all need to read widely about our field. Just reading the books is not enough. So thanks to Marco Roth for his article and to Cindy Orr, for the chance to think outside the box.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Becky.