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This article is taken from PN Review 167, Volume 32 Number 3, January - February 2006.

In Praise of the Novel Carlos Fuentes

Not long ago, the Norwegian Academy addressed one hundred writers from all over the world with a single question:

Name the novel that you consider the best ever written.

Of the one hundred consulted, fifty answered: Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.

Quite a landslide, considering the runners up: Dostoevsky, Faulkner and Garcáa Mírquez, in that order.

The results of this consultation pose the interesting question of the long-seller versus the best-seller. There is, of course, no answer that fits all cases: why does a best-seller sell, why does a long-seller last?

Don Quixote was a big bestseller when it first appeared in 1605 and has continued to sell ever since, whereas William Faulkner was definitively a bad seller if you compare the meagre sales of Absalom, Absalom (1936) to those of the really big-seller of the year, Hervey Allen's Anthony Adverse, a Napoleonic saga of love, war and trade.

Which means that here is no actual thermometer in these matters, even if time will not only tell: time will sell.

One might think that Cervantes was in tune with his times whereas Stendhal consciously wrote for 'the happy few' and sold poorly in his own life, was given the reward of Balzac's praise before he died and only came into his own thanks to the efforts of the ...


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