Archive for December 12th, 2017

A Nobel Prize for Storytelling?

It’s far too easy for us self-styled “literary types” to have a cheap laugh at the expense of Jeffrey Archer. I’d like to think, however, that this blog is above that. Especially now, in the lead-up to the Festive Season. “Goodwill to all men, except for Jeffrey Archer” does seem a bit churlish at best.

I’d like, nonetheless, to comment, not on Mr Archer the person, nor even on Mr Archer the writer, but on a line from some article in the Daily Telegraph in praise of Mr Archer that is now quoted on the covers of his books. “If there were a Nobel Prize for storytelling,” we are told, “Archer would win.”

archer-us

I personally have no quarrel whatever with this line. The judgement expressed may or may not be a good judgement, but I am not sufficiently interested in the matter to try to find out for myself: life is too short to take an interest in everything, and, beyond a point, one’s curiosity does begin to dwindle. But I can’t help noticing that this line has been the subject of much ridicule and scoffing on social media. There already does exist such a prize, the scoffers tell us: it’s called the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Well, actually, no. The scoffers are wrong. Storytelling is certainly an aspect of fiction (or, for that matter, of plays, narrative poems, screenplays, operatic libretti, or whatever); but as a criterion of literary merit, while it can on very rare occasions be a sufficient criterion (I am thinking here, say, of the likes of Dumas), it is by no means a necessary one. There is much literature of surpassing high quality where storytelling skills play little part.

I can’t help feeling, though, that it would be no bad thing if there were to be a Nobel Prize for Storytelling, for good storytelling is a fine skill, is possessed by few, and deserves to be celebrated when found. Whether or not Mr Archer should win such a prize, I am in no position to say, but this particular skill, as and when I come across it, is one I find myself much admiring. As is only to be expected, I suppose, from one who would unhesitatingly pick The Sherlock Holmes Stories as his single Desert Island Book.

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