A particularly trenchant critique of Joseph O’Neill’s novel Netherland was offered by novelist Zadie Smith last fall in a New York Review of Books piece entitled “Two Paths for the Novel.”

Smith describes Netherland as an example of “lyrical Realism,” which she believes has become the preferred form for the literary novel:

A breed of lyrical Realism has had the freedom of the highway for some time now, with most other exits blocked. For Netherland,
our receptive pathways are so solidly established that to read this
novel is to feel a powerful, somewhat dispiriting sense of recognition.
It seems perfectly done–in a sense that’s the problem. It’s so
precisely the image of what we have been taught to value in fiction
that it throws that image into a kind of existential crisis, as the
photograph gifts a nervous breakdown to the painted portrait.

The other path that Smith describes is represented in her review by Tom McCarthy’s novel Remainder, which she describes as the latest landmark on “that skewed side road where we greet Georges Perec, Clarice Lispector, Maurice Blanchot, William Burroughs, J.G. Ballard.”

Take a look at Smith’s review and let us know what you think. Smith, by the way, will be joining the Creative Writing faculty at NYU in the fall. One of her current projects is a consideration of the novel as a vehicle for moral philosophy.