A Pragmatic Policy has an extremely bloated and yet rather dull-witted response to Zadie Smith's recent, excellent NYRB article Two Paths for the Novel. It can be enjoyed alongside a similarly uncomprehending attempt at a rejoinder, Zadie Smith’s annoying Critique of ‘Realism’ (sic!), from Nigel Beale.
There are countless non-sequitors and much out-of-place hubris in both responses, which I'll leave y'all to chew on yourselves, but I would like to respond to both parties failure to understand Smith's central point that the "perfection" of what Smith calls lyrical Realism (ELF to me) is not a good thing.
Talking about Joseph O'Neill's Netherland, Smith says, "It seems perfectly done -- in a sense that’s the problem." Neither Beale nor APP gets why this is so spot-on. Perhaps a visual analogy would help them? Artists could keep painting wonderful, detailed landscapes -- different landscapes, in competing realist styles -- but art wouldn't move forward until a dude put a bog in an art gallery and called it art or, 20-odd years later, another dude put a canvas on the floor and started dribbling paint all over it!
The Victorian novel with a few Jamesian knobs on (lyrical Realism, ELF, call it what you will) is not the only path the novel can take. Its dominance means that each year a flood of Booker-ready novels in the sclerotic genre of literary fiction are declared masterpieces. Some of them are near-perfect embodiments of the genre which their near word-perfect amanuenses have bodied forth, but that perfection pushes them far away from literature itself.