As a postscript to H P Lovecraft's thoughts last week, and building also on the recent post about good books, I came across this observation by author John Lanchester in the London Review of Books:
“The reader whose idea of the novel is formed by the English canon may at some stage start to read books in the French tradition. At that point, it may suddenly seem that everything one has previously read has essentially been children’s literature. Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope, even Austen and Eliot, are all wonderful writers, but their work is founded in wish fulfilment, happy endings and love conquering all. The side notes and off notes and internal dissent are all there, of course, but they are subtextual, subtle, inexplicit. The main current of the English novel is in the direction of Happy Ever After, along the lines of Miss Prism’s deathless observation: ‘The good ended happily and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.’ When you turn from that tradition to the work of Laclos, Flaubert, Balzac, Stendhal, Maupassant and Proust, it’s like getting a glass of ice water in the face. Everybody lies all the time; codes of honour are mainly a delusion and will get you into serious trouble; the same goes for love; if you think the world is how it is described in consoling fictions, you have many catastrophic surprises in store.”You can read the whole piece here. I think it's interesting because Lanchester makes this comment while talking about Simenon's Maigret books -- genre novels in an extremely long-running series with one central character, which is usually a recipe for absolute junk. And also because the trend he's talking about in English-language literature also went on to infect English-language cinema, television and even roleplaying games. Hence the common assumption these days that roleplaying ought to reinforce comforting fantasies and be built around predictable character arcs. To which I will just add: yuck.