Time for another question from the Classic Club:
What about modern classics? Pick a book published since 2000 and say why you think it will be considered as a “classic” in the future.
It feels like a long time since I have participated in the monthly classic club question, and this is a difficult one – what after all is a classic? Who decides a book is a classic and what elusive quality is it that makes a book worthy of such a title?
So – naturally I have broken the rules a little in my answer and gone for two books.
I suppose it all comes down to what I think a classic is made of. One element I think that will be appreciated in the future is a timeless quality. Many classics of the past of course are firmly rooted in the period that they were written, and we read and love them still, but people change, and I wonder if whether, in another 100 years readers will want books that are very much of the 2000’s? Maybe – but I can’t help thinking that those novels which do have that timeless quality will traverse the years between now and then better – this world is a fast changing place, our tastes so much more fickle than they once were. Then novels which speak of the human condition in some way that never really changes, love, friendship, sexual awakenings, memory, loss, hope, faith and questions of philosophy will I suspect remain the things that make readers reach for novels published many years earlier.
“There are so few people given us to love. I want to tell my daughters this, that each time you fall in love it is important, even at nineteen. Especially at nineteen. And if you can, at nineteen, count the people you love on one hand, you will not, at forty, have run out of fingers on the other. There are so few people given us to love and they all stick.”
(The Gathering – Anne Enright 2007)
The first novel I have picked is The Gathering by Anne Enright – and I confess I am rather astounded at my own choice. The Gathering won the Booker Prize in 2007, and I read it in 2009. I enjoyed it a lot, although now I realise I enjoyed it far more in retrospect than I ever realised at the time. This is often the sign of a truly exceptional novel and naturally I now want to re-read it. Reading ‘The Gathering’ I must admit, was at times like walking forward in a misty haze, street lights showing most of the path ahead – frequently the reader wanders hesitatingly into regions that are unfamiliar before turning back onto the familiar path. It is a haunting story of memory and family, the setting is split between the present and 1968 – there was for me that timeless quality that I always love so much and which I think will help make it a classic of the future, although at the same time it is very much a novel of twenty-first century families too. The Gathering is essentially the story of a large Irish family who gather in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother Liam. Liam had been a drinker – but it wasn’t that that killed him; it was what happened to him in his grandmother’s house in 1968. Like so many great classics – The Gathering is a novel which divides opinion – and I suspect a lot of people will be perplexed at my choice. The Writing however is gorgeous, lyrical, and subtle – there are depths to this novel that one reading alone can’t do justice.
“If you stumble about believability, what are you living for? Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?”
(Life of Pi – Yann Martel 2001)
The second novel I have picked is a very different novel to The Gathering; Life of Pi by Yann Martel – coincidently another Booker winner. Life of Pi – was a book I actually avoided for many years. It was published in 2001 – and I remember buying it for my Dad in hardback that Christmas – and he loved it. However it wasn’t until four years after my dad’s death that I got around to reading it for myself – fairly sure I’d hate it – I loved it. It too has that wonderful timeless quality, but as well as that it’s a powerful allegory of faith, spirituality and hope. It is of course the story of Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, a Tamil boy from Pondicherry. He survives 227 days after a shipwreck while stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. It is an enormously readable adventure – with an ending that often splits opinion (I loved the ending others hated it) – but serves for fabulous long debates – surely a must for book groups if nothing else. Life of Pi is an exuberant adventure, and is surely a book to be enjoyed by future generations.
What do you think? Could these books be classics of the future? What would your choices be?