John Walsh is pleased about the books on the Booker shortlist, since it's strong on 'the literary novel'. I'm all for the literary novel myself; for some years now it has provided most of my reading. But I think the way Walsh argues for it sets up a couple of false polarities.
First, he claims that in books that fit the aforesaid rubric, plot doesn't matter. As he puts it, 'You can recognise the literary novel by its lack of interest in a plot'. Rather, what matters is 'the evocation of a consciousness through a flow of words'. That, and 'a moral crux', and the words themselves. I have no quarrel with his pointing to the importance of these things, but it doesn't follow that plot is of no consequence. One doesn't have to choose, either-or. There's a relatively independent activity in writing fiction that's known as telling a good story and a writer can do this at the same time as, in the process of, evoking a consciousness or character or set of them, arriving at a moral crux, and so forth. Conversely, if there's no story of interest, the reader's attention can be lost. I don't say this must happen but it can; and there's no shortage of dull literary fiction that also doesn't succeed in the things Walsh holds to be important. It's a false antithesis he offers. Austen, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Roth, Tyler - and how many other great novelists! - manage, whatever else they do, to keep their readers with them by telling a good story. (Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending, incidentally, which gets a favourable mention from Walsh, is a book to which the plot is critical in conveying some of the vicissitudes of ageing.)
Second, Walsh writes against the 'subjectivity' of readers; he's 'tired of bloggers who say, "It didn't do anything for me, I'm afraid, so there must be something wrong with The Brothers Karamazov," rather than suspect there's something missing in themselves.' There might, of course, be something 'missing' in a reader who fails to like a particular book that others have found absorbing, judged to be great, etc. Yet not every reader can like every book of quality. There's also the matter of differences of taste. I've read books liked, fêted, by other people and which nothing on earth would get me to read again. The time of each of us on life's busy path is limited, and subjectivity in this domain has its rights.