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The novel as big business

13 November 2006

'Never mind Hay. From Peebles to Penzance, and from St Magnus to Southwold, by way of Bakewell, Bewdley, Mere and Poole, there's hardly a town in Britain that will not be holding a literary festival this year. Like some medieval peasant migration, the book-buying public will flock this summer into tents, church halls and village halls to experience poets, biographers and above all novelists, reading aloud from their work and signing books...'

In 2006 the novelist has become a cross between a commercial traveller and an itinerant preacher. The cultural historians of the future will surely pick over the larger meaning of this festival fever, but one thing is indisputable: in just over a generation the novel has gone public in the most astounding way. In the process, the genre has sold out and become big business, the preferred medium of self-advancement and self-promotion for Blair's children, and almost unrecognisable to fiction-lovers raised on the literary names of the Forties and Fifties.'

Robert McCrum in the Observer