John Fowles on the fate of the novel in the age of the cinema

All the purely visual and aural sequences in the modern novel are a bore, both to read and to write.

People’s physical appearance, their movements, their sounds, places, moods of places – the camera and the microphone enregister these twenty times better than the typewriter. If the novel is to survive it must one day narrow its field to what other systems of recording can’t record. I say one day because the reading public still isn’t very aware of what I call mischanneling – that is, using the wrong art form to express or convey what you mean.

In other words, to write a novel in 1964 is to be neurotically aware of trespassing, especially on the domain of the cinema. Of course, very few of us ever get the chance to express ourselves on film. (Having one’s book filmed is equivalent to having a luxury illustrated edition; it is not expressing oneself on film.) So over the novel today hangs a faute de mieux.

All of us under forty write cinematically; our imaginations, constantly fed on films, shoot scenes, and we write descriptions of what has been shot.

So for us a lot of novel writing is, or seems like, the tedious translating of an unmade and never-to-be-made film into words.

Free short story every week. No spam, ever.