Why is it that pieces like this one - which contain any number of things with which we agree - ultimately end up irritating us?
Still, the recognition for a novel that was the object of so much rejection seems to confirm the view that the business is hostile to fresh talent. Certainly JK Rowling, who could now buy most publishers, couldn't get her manuscripts bought by one when she began. And yet a publishing accountant might argue that Catherine O'Flynn's Costa success does not prove the book houses wrong. Increasingly, judgments involve not literary quality but commercial prospects.
These vicious economic predictions have come into publishing because of a collapse in the market for fiction that prizes prose over plot. At the Christmas parties, many publishers were talking guiltily about new books by authors you might have heard of - winner of a Whitbread 20 years ago, writer of that book that became that film - that they have been forced to turn down because marketing was alarmed.
On the one hand, it's simply silly to say that publishing is hostile to "fresh talent," as the number of debuts published each year surely attests. On the other, it's entirely fair to say that marketing departments hold far too much power in the current literary landscape. And it's sillier still to fall on the cliché of "prose over plot" when backhanding literary fiction. Pieces like this mix legitimate criticism with anti-intellectualism and ressentiment and end up a distasteful leper's stew. In the end, we learn more about the author's prejudices than about the prejudices threatening fiction.
An old stand-up comic friend used to say, following a failed joke, "There's a successful joke in there, somewhere." Somewhere, there's a successful essay on what ails serious fiction. If you can find it, please alert us.