Whenever anyone writes a book, as Joseph Bottum has, lamenting that things just aren’t what they used to be, critics predictably rise up to decry the crotchety old author and his take. And Bottum’s provocative new offering, The Decline of The Novel, seems tailor-made to elicit just such reactions. No doubt more than a few skeptics will feel compelled to list any number of “good” or even “great” novels written in recent years, laying to rest any anxieties they might have about the obsolescence of this particular art form.

Now, it seems likely that Bottum would disagree strenuously with many of his critics about what constitutes excellence in novel writing. But he’s not really interested in arguing that no good novels are being written today. At the very least, that’s not his primary claim. His point is more that even if these good novels exist, nobody’s reading them.

But let me back up a little. Before I say anything more about The Decline of the Novel, you have to understand what Bottum thinks a novel is. (Here’s where things get interesting.) The entire premise of Bottum’s book is that the novel, as a genre of prose fiction, is “Protestant, all the way down.” He has a number of ways of expressing this thought: that the novel is Protestant in essence, for instance, or Protestantly inflected. Elsewhere, he calls Protestantism the “genus of the modern novel.”

What he means, I think, is that the rise of the novel as the modern genre of fiction and the growth of Protestantism go hand in hand, and that the novel, consequently, has certain features that tie it closely—integrally, even—to the Protestant faith. The most important of ...

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The Decline of the Novel
Our Rating
4 Stars - Excellent
Book Title
The Decline of the Novel
St. Augustines Press
Release Date
December 2, 2019
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