I'm not a great fan of fiction. Rather like the theatre, the hit rate isn't high enough for me to think of it as a reliable and good value source of entertainment.
The last novel I read, Netherland - which received almost universally favourable reviews - was disappointing, the more so as it was an intriguing and unusual proposition: a novel featuring a Dutch banker and his adventures with immigrant cricketers in post-9/11 New York.
However, I found it inaccurate in details, unevenly written, and self-indulgently didactic and ruminative. Elliptical but with nothing much in the gaps. Worse, it lacked emotional credibility, and too obviously strained for an off-beat profundity that in the end felt unremarkably generic. (That would be a 'no' from me then).
But the novel I'm reading now, Me, Cheeta, is great. It's a parody of the Hollywood memoir by Tarzan's best mate (not Jane; pictured below). Sort of David Niven's memoirs as told by Bob Evans*...but as a chimp. It was nominated for the Booker yesterday.
It made me realise that of the contemporary novels I've read, the ones that featured chimps have all been good: Brazzaville Beach, Great Apes and this one. It might take a chimp and a typewriter close to eternity to write the works of Shakespeare but the reverse appears to be a much more promising theoretical proposition. I think our own subjectivity - at least as it's represented in the contemporary novel - has become a bit boring.
So, roll on a new genre, chimp lit. It'll need its own prize, of course: how about the Fyffes Prize for Simian-Related Fiction, or for short, The Banana?
* Just noticed that Evans's autobiography (The Kid Stays in the Picture) is out of print. Shame, as it's one of the most entertaining and revealing books I've read on how films get made. It's also, I think, one of the best books I've read on the the art of the deal, and not just in relation to the film business.