I wanted to get into a little discussion on writing these days (the dreaded genre vs literary divide, something that isn't as clear-cut as one would think). In a previous post I mentioned that the merits of some genre books are too easily dismissed by the "literati" as frivolous. Of course, my main point is that these books have some substance to them. My argument was that Da Vinci Code should be ceded some credit as it at least made me research a topic outside of the book. I should say that this doesn't mean that I take it as a classic. In fact, I think that it's not a story that stays with me as a reader.
Nevertheless, I will stake some territory here and say that particular book will have more staying power than some books that get the label 'literary' in our time (and that win literary prizes in our time). Once again I've mentioned that winning literary prizes has no indication that a book will indeed mean anything or have something to say about now to the future (so no staying power), as one only has to look at the prizes in the past to wonder 'huh?'.
This means that, though I've read plenty of good books from the contemporary shelves, I have not found anything resembling something great, or a classic. I've read plenty of books but even the literary ones I consider lacking...
With that in mind I dare to name a contemporary novel a classic. Waiting for the Barbarians by Coetzee. (I know it was published quite some time ago, but this is, by far, the best book I've read in that time period) This book gripped me and had me reading from its heart-wrenching beginning to its end. Is it perfect? By no means, but I believe that it will be a classic. Coetzee manages to write the entire novel in a way that doesn't specify the place (though the time could be considered somewhat rooted). An Empire and the Barbarians. That's it. The protagonist, a magistrate for the Empire, is witness to the Empire exercising its power on the Barbarians. This drives the story forward.... I'll leave it at that, but I believe the depths to which Coetzee manages to push us into the psyche of this magistrate and challenge the notion of Barbarian and Civilized, makes it the classic that it is. You can apply this to almost any situation and one can only marvel at what he has accomplished.