When Bookering last year I found most of the novels fitted into one of two categories, which I began to think of as 'Conscious Modern' and 'Pattern Naive'. Pattern Naive, the larger category, pursued its course by holding onto an image of the novel which suited its own version of individuality: the novel, in this sense, being something that was always around - a way of turning life back into convention rather than into a sense of the present moment. Authors in this genre were full of other novels, but not disturbed by them: other novelists were a reassurance and a bulwark, like sitting an exam with a lot of other candidates. (E.M. Forster liked to imagine novelists from all periods all writing together in the same room.) Conscious Modern (nothing to do with the Modernist movement of course) was much rarer because harder to do. A good writer in this genre, such as Martin Amis, succeeds in raping the 'now' by means of a philistine main character, who brutishly makes clear the sourness and the nowness of our time. Modernity's awareness of itself must hit the reader through the pretence of utter indifference to any other possibility. As a gimmick the Modern may fire an arrow backward, but must always shun the convention of consciousness running free in time - being ondulant et divers. This is as true now as it was in the days when the Modern was invented, and practised by novelists like Hemingway or Anthony Powell, both of whom significantly reverted, in their later work, to the older authorial convention of a time-free consciousness.
LRB 6 July 1995 | PDF Download