Antinovel: Definition and Examples

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      An Antinovel is new type of fiction that avoids the familiar conventions of the traditional novel, and instead establishes its own conventions. Such novel of the mid-20th century marked a radical departure from the conventions of the traditional novel in that it ignores such elements as plot, dialogue, linear narrative, and human interest. The term anti-novel came into vogue in the late fifties to describe those works which oppose, parody, or in some way attempt to transcend the form and content of traditional novel. According to M.H. Abrams, an anti-novel is a “work which is deliberately constructed in a negative fashion relying for its effects on omitting or annihilating traditional elements of the novel, and on playing against the expectations established in the reader by the novelistic methods and conventions of the past”. Some principal features of Antinovel include lack of obvious plot, minimal development of character, variations in time sequence, experiments with vocabulary and syntax, and alternative endings and beginnings. Extreme features may include detachable or blank pages, drawings, and hieroglyphics.

      Although the term is most commonly applied to the French ‘nouveau roman’ of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, similar traits can be found much further back in literary history. One example is Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, a seemingly autobiographical novel that barely makes it as far as the title character’s birth thanks to numerous digressions and a rejection of linear chronology. It is also present in Virginia Woolf's fictions. Such British practitioners of the antinovel as Christine Brooke-Rose and Rayner Heppenstall (both French scholars, incidentally) are more empirical than their French counterparts. They object mainly to the falsification of the external world that was imposed on the traditional novel by the exigencies of plot and character, and they insist on notating the minutiae of the surface of life, concentrating in an unhurried fashion on every detail of its texture. A work like Heppenstall’s Connecting Door (1962), in which the narrator-hero does not even possess a name, is totally unconcerned with action but very interested in buildings, streets, and the sound of music. This is properly a fresh approach to the materials of the traditional novel rather than a total liberation from it. Such innovations as are found, in the nouveau roman can best show their value in their influence on traditional novelists.

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