Marco Roth has an interesting article about the Neuronovel in n+1. Neuronovel is his term for a notable trend in fiction over the last decade or so. I’m sure you’ve noticed that in a number of recent novels, one of the main characters has some type of interesting neurological disorder. Some examples include The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, The Echomaker, and Saturday. BTW, I think that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close might be an example Marco missed, although that’s certainly not as explicit as some of the others.
His article is a pretty good summary of the trend and a reasonable analysis of what might be behind it. I do think that he misses one possible cause though. I think that Oliver Sacks’ books are one of the most important factors in the rise of this sort of novel. I think that some of his stories are so compelling and well written, that a number of authors were inspired to explore similar topics in their fiction. In fact, Sacks appears as a thinly disguised character in a couple of these books. I think that is clearly a case of the author tipping their hat to their inspiration.
The article is worth a read. I really enjoyed some of his details. See what you think about how things have changed between the time when Lionel Trilling was worried about the effect of Freud on the novel and our time when the concerns are more chemical. After reading that, follow through to the New Yorker profile of Ian McEwan that Macro mentions. I enjoyed the bit about McEwan’s son getting a D for a book report about his father’s novel from a teacher who didn’t think the author’s opinion counted for anything.