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Dublin: 7 °C Friday 18 October, 2019

I write a nasty book. And they want a girly cover on it.

Lionel Shriver on how publishing discriminates against women.

The latest literary dust-up in the United States concerns the outsize critical admiration of Jonathan Franzen’s new novel Freedom, the follow-up to his 2001 National Book Award winner The Corrections. Freedom secured two worshipful reviews from the New York Times in one week, the Book Review’s lengthy cover essay drooling with such jaw-dropped awe that it was hard to read for the saliva stains. Franzen himself appears on the cover of Time, and Freedom sits in President Obama’s stack of holiday reading.

Fellow novelist Jodi Picoult ignited online fireworks last week by claiming that female writers never attract the same reverence as “white male literary darlings” like Franzen. Naturally Picoult risks the appearance of plain old envy. Though a skilful craftsman, Picoult may also lack the literary standing to make such a charge. Myself, I’ve yet to read Freedom, embargoed until this Wednesday, but it does sound like an excellent book, one I’m looking forward to.

Nevertheless, Picoult has a point. A female novelist would never enjoy a Franzen-scale frenzy of adulation in America, which maintains two distinct tiers in fiction. The heavy hitters – cultural icons who often produce great doorstop novels that no one ever argues are under-edited – are exclusively male. Rising literati like Rick Moody and Jonathan Franzen efficiently assume the spots left unoccupied by John Updike and Norman Mailer, like a rigged game of musical chairs. Then there’s everybody else – including a raft of female writers who keep the publishing industry afloat by selling to its primary consumers: women.

Lionel Shriver won the 2005 Orange prize for fiction with We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Read the full article in today’s Guardian.

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