Tom Wolfe: what makes a good novel?

Tom Wolfe interview still

So what does make a good novel? We all have our views. Here is what the brilliant Tom Wolfe thinks.

“I don’t really know the answer to that, but it seems to me it gets weaker and weaker because of the influence of these MFA programs. They teach young people to “write what you know,” which would mean things you’ve experienced. Now that’s perfectly good advice, but it’s usually not good for more than one book. Emerson once said every person on earth has a great autobiography to write, if only he or she can distinguish something unique in his or her experience. That’s true, but he didn’t say two! This is when things get interesting: You can write a brilliant novel based on the first 25 years of your life, but you have to have material built in. Then the second novel is about being a young guy whose first novel is a big success critically, but he doesn’t have any money, and he doesn’t have a girlfriend. And he’s trudging up the five flights to his Brooklyn apartment, saying, “Ah, hell.” That’s not really very interesting to me.

There have been all these attempts to break away from the realistic novel, now considered old-fashioned. But to me, it’s like saying electricity is old-fashioned. Electricity gets right down to the composition of matter—and it works! It’s the same way in writing, in fiction or nonfiction. You can’t give up realism without giving up the very electricity of prose in my humble, nonjudgmental opinion.”

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