The editors of n + 1 tell us that
The novel is unexcelled at one thing only: the creation of interiority, or inwardness. How does life look and sound from the inside, where no public observes it and not even a friend listens in? No better instrument than prose fiction was ever developed for answering this question.
Lots of people who think they know what they're talking about and that they are paying "the novel" some kind of tribute like to say this. They apparently believe it. But if we're meant to take such a statement literally, it's actually unmitigated nonsense, utterly absurd.
No novel has ever given us a depiction of how "life look[s] and sound[s] from the inside." Never has one recorded "interiority, or inwardness." Many instruments--neuroscience, for instance--have given us better insight into what it's like inside the human mind, among other reasons because no novel has ever given us such insight at all.
Some novels have attempted to convey, insofar as words in a literary context can convey, an impression of what interiority is like, at least as it is plainly different from our usual presentation of ourselves in exteriority. Such attempts are a metaphor for inwardness, but the notion that somehow they are truly presenting us with a verbal picture of inwardness is just inane, a failure to appreciate the ultimate fact that literature is inescapably metaphorical, a system of deploying tropes for their own sake. Some of these novels, particularly the early modernist novels of psychological realism, do a pretty good job of creating the illusion we are following a character's stream of thought, witnessing events from the "inside," but surely we don't believe this is more than an illusion. Do our mental processes really consist of sentence fragments or an unpunctuated "flow"of words, two of the more common methods of invoking the illusion? Is the "free indirect" narrative strategy, by which the narrator is somehow peering into a character's consciousness and extracting the appropriate words from this flow really an approximation of Mind? Please.
If you want to say that these strategies are the means available to writers to approximate "inwardness" when that seems like an appropriate aesthetic choice, fine. But it's not always the appropriate choice, and it certainly is not the case that fiction exists primarily to reveal inwardness. Those who insist otherwise are voicing the reductive claim heard throughout the history of fiction as a literary genre that the aim of fiction is "realism," except in this case it is a realism of the inside rather than a realism of the outside. To this extent, literary history, at least as regarded by the likes of the editors of n +1, has never really gotten beyond the most conservative incorporation of the innovations of writers like Woolf, Joyce, and James, whose turn to psychological realism was a break with the surface realism of Flaubert, Chekhov, and William Dead Howells but did not thus depart from the broader goals of realism--to present a verbal simulacrum of reality. Other implications of the formal and stylistic adventurousness of these writers that might be explored are ignored in this version of the development of fiction.
The claim that "The novel is unexcelled at one thing only" comes as a comparison to other narrative forms, namely film, television, and journalism. This seems to me a valid comparison only if you take fiction as just another narrative form in competition with these other, more popular, sources of narrative so that which does what best becomes a consideration in the struggle for audience. I agree that fiction can't compete with film and television for immediacy of image, and that documentary realism is best left to journalists, but otherwise the one thing the novel--fiction more generally--is "unexcelled" at is in exploiting its medium--language--for whatever narrative purpose. In this way it is in competition with no other medium, and the "creation of interiority" is merely one effect it might produce from its invocation of words--an effect that is, in my opinion, becoming only more shopworn and perfunctory with every novel that again appeals to it.