Contemporary fiction: the novel since 1990, P Bickley

Tags: Cambridge University Press, Contemporary Fiction, subject matter, Michael Ondaatje, Pamela Bickley Frontmatter, Jane Smiley, The English Patient, writing, literary language, inventive genre, post-colonial novel, prose fiction, contemporary world, modern world, section addresses, critical perspectives, textual analysis, fictional texts, contemporary writing, Linear narrative, rewarding area of study, A Thousand Acres, William Trevor, The Story of Lucy Gault, Barry Unsworth, Angela Carter, University Press, Pamela Bickley Series editor, magic realism, Wise Children, Historical realism, The Heather Blazing, omniscient narrator, Andrea Levy, Zadie Smith, historical present, Michael Frayn
Content: Cambridge University Press 978-0-521-71249-1 - contemporary fiction: The Novel since 1990 Pamela Bickley Frontmatter More information Contexts in Literature Contemporary Fiction: The Novel since 1990 Pamela Bickley Series editor: Adrian Barlow
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Cambridge University Press 978-0-521-71249-1 - Contemporary Fiction: The Novel since 1990 Pamela Bickley Frontmatter More information cambridge UNIVERSITY PRESS Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, Sгo Paulo, Delhi Cambridge University Press The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK www.cambridge.org Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521712491 © Cambridge University Press 2008 This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published 2008 Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library ISBN 978-0-521-71249-1 paperback Editorial management: Gill Stacey Cover illustration: © OJO Images Ltd /Alamy Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party Internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.
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Cambridge University Press 978-0-521-71249-1 - Contemporary Fiction: The Novel since 1990 Pamela Bickley Frontmatter More information
Contents
Introduction
6
1 Reading contemporary fiction
9
Is the novel `novel'?
9
The death of the novel?
10
Glittering prizes
12
Book vs Internet
13
Is there a modern literary canon?
15
contemporary novel, contemporary life?
17
Cultural hybridity and identity
19
Politics and the novel: `Thatcherism'
22
The arts in opposition
22
Salman Rushdie: the continuing controversy
24
Literature and taboo: the relish of the nasty
25
Biographical fictions
28
The British novel and war writing
30
The post-war experience
33
The novel and the end: millennial anxieties
34
AIDS and the post-1990 novel
37
Intertextuality and postmodernism
38
Assignments
40
2 Approaches to the texts
41
Who is the narrator?
41
Childhood and narrative
42
Mark Haddon: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
42
David Mitchell: Black Swan Green
44
Jonathan Coe: The Rotters' Club
45
Narrative and dystopia
45
Kazuo Ishiguro: Never Let Me Go
46
Narrative and intertextuality
47
Jane Smiley: A Thousand Acres
48
The omniscient narrator
49
Realism or magic realism?
50
The geographical present
51
The historical present
52
Hyper-realism
53
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Cambridge University Press 978-0-521-71249-1 - Contemporary Fiction: The Novel since 1990 Pamela Bickley Frontmatter More information
Historical realism
54
Michael Ondaatje: The English Patient
54
Novel into film
56
Magic realism
56
Angela Carter: Wise Children
57
Yann Martel: Life of Pi
58
Jim Crace: Quarantine
59
End of empire and post-colonial writing
59
The Irish novel
61
William Trevor: The Story of Lucy Gault
62
Colm Tуibнn: The Heather Blazing
63
Brian Moore: Lies of Silence
65
Coetzee and South Africa
65
Hilary Mantel: A Change of Climate
67
The post-colonial novel in Britain
67
Andrea Levy: Small Island
67
Zadie Smith: White Teeth
68
Monica Ali: Brick Lane
69
Plot and structure
70
Linear narrative
71
Barry Unsworth: Morality Play
72
Structure and secrets
72
Michael Frayn: Spies and Louis Begley: Wartime Lies
73
Structure and the multi-layered narrative
74
Kate Atkinson: Behind the Scenes at the Museum
75
Closure
75
Character
77
Pat Barker: Regeneration
78
Character as subject: Roddy Doyle The Woman Who Walked into Doors 79
The reader's judgement
81
3 Texts and extracts
82
From Granta
82
Angela Carter
from Wise Children
84
J.M. Coetzee
from Disgrace
85
Kazuo Ishiguro
from Never Let Me Go
87
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Cambridge University Press 978-0-521-71249-1 - Contemporary Fiction: The Novel since 1990 Pamela Bickley Frontmatter More information
Andrea Levy
from Small Island
88
Ian McEwan
from Saturday
89
Michael Ondaatje
from The English Patient
91
Jane Smiley
from A Thousand Acres
92
Zadie Smith
from White Teeth
95
Colm Tуibнn
from The Heather Blazing
97
William Trevor
from The Story of Lucy Gault
98
Barry Unsworth
from Morality Play
100
4 Critical Approaches
102
Different interpretations: A Thousand Acres
102
Questioning the timelessness of literature
103
History and contextuality
104
Post-colonialism
105
Psychoanalytical readings
106
Is reading political?
107
5 How to write about contemporary fiction
109
Titles and openings
109
Genre and style
110
Structuring the essay
110
Writing comparatively
111
Critical sources
111
Using reviews
112
Assignments
117
6 Resources
119
Further reading
119
Glossary
120
Chronology
122
Index
125
Acknowledgements
128
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Cambridge University Press 978-0-521-71249-1 - Contemporary Fiction: The Novel since 1990 Pamela Bickley Frontmatter More information
Introduction Post-1990 fiction is an exciting and rewarding area of study. Following a period when the decline of the novel was widely discussed, fiction has emerged as a vibrant and inventive genre, exploring the diversity of the contemporary world and frequently experimenting with form and language. This is not to say that current works of prose fiction are always optimistic and uplifting, there are few utopian worlds to discover. Rather, it might seem that the visions of urban decay, individual isolation and fractured relationships depict a bleak picture at the turn of the millennium. But readers will also find strange and compelling tales, new and original voices, trenchant wit and humour. Contemporary writing is a controversial area and readers will inevitably become involved in discussions over literary language and subject matter. It is precisely because modern writing engages with the new that it can be seen as challenging and, at times, disturbing. The post-1990 novel is expressive of a wide range of imaginative perspectives, both realist and fantastical. Post-colonial writing explores experiences of exile and displacement where the central question `Who am I?' is probed and questioned. Some commentators have seen the numbers of novels taking as subject the two world wars of the 20th century as an obsession of contemporary writers. We live in troubled times and apocalyptic fears haunt certain texts as they grapple with the dark question of what happens beyond the end of civilised society. This study intends to introduce readers to major and recurrent preoccupations of the post-1990 novel, to identify some of the chief characteristics of the genre, and to offer ways in which contemporary writing can be analysed and discussed. Part 1: Reading contemporary fiction addresses the question of the genre itself, looking at the circumstances in which novels are written and received. Why does the novel continue to flourish in a world of increasingly sophisticated media? Can it still be seen as a form which can achieve novel, in the sense of `new', effects? Fiction is constantly under discussion in today's society: from the media coverage of the prize world to local book groups, novels are regarded as significant. Clearly, novels arise out of their cultural moment; they might also be seen as shaping and crystallising that moment. Contemporary novelists such as Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Graham Swift locate their fictions firmly within the recognisable modern world, as though insisting upon the `real' in their work. James Kelman and Irvine Welsh have united a pursuit of narrative truth with the desire to challenge and unsettle readers, raising the question of whether the novel has reached the ultimate limits of expression and subject matter. New voices within contemporary writing introduce dual, or multiple, perspectives upon THE MODERN WORLD, and fiction. Hanif Kureishi, Zadie Smith, Kazuo Ishiguro, Michael Ondaatje belong to the
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CONTEMPORARY FICTION
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Cambridge University Press 978-0-521-71249-1 - Contemporary Fiction: The Novel since 1990 Pamela Bickley Frontmatter More information
post-1990 `novel in English', but their individual influences derive from many different sources. Cultural hybridity has proved to be part of the novel's continuing evolution and inventiveness. As well as examining some areas of the novel's production and reception, together with the relationship between contemporary writing and society, Part 1 also identifies thematic considerations which recur insistently in the writing of the late 20th century. Millennial anxiety inevitably informs writing which follows the 9/11 attacks on New York, yet the proliferation of novels revisiting the two great conflicts of the 20th century suggests that the past also remains troubling and unresolved. Part 2: Approaches to the texts offers ways of analysing the form of the novel, considering narratives and narrators, plot and structure, types of `characterisation'. Investigation of conventional areas of narration reveals the extent to which contemporary fiction experiments with inherited forms, or seeks to invent new strategies. Intertextuality is an experimental device which is characteristic of post1990 writing. This section also examines different types of narrative realism ­ from the novelist's desire to insist upon factual accuracy (in McEwan's or Pat Barker's writing) to the bizarre world of Yann Martel's Life of Pi. Post-colonial writing is complex and varied, and different perspectives are explored here: the brutal, postapartheid world of J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace as well as contemporary multicultural London in the writing of Monica Ali and Zadie Smith. The Irish rejection of British rule which informs the subtle and probing writing of William Trevor and Colm Tуibнn is also relevant to this debate. Structural and thematic questions are illustrated with reference to a range of post-1990 writing, drawing on texts specified by UK examining boards as well as relevant comparative texts. Tasks and assignments suggest further reading as well as areas for discussion. Part 4: Critical approaches examines the nature of textual interpretation: What expectations do readers bring to a given text? Is it appropriate to regard literature as enshrining timeless feelings and values? Discussion of Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres demonstrates ways in which a single text may be open to multiple interpretations and differing critical views. Most of the texts cited in this book belong to the category of `contemporary British fiction'. Limitations of space preclude discussion of other writing in English, although some American novels have been included. Irish writing, for reasons belonging to history, is also included, although many Irish writers would claim a distinctly un-English tradition. One of the advantages of studying the new and modern is that, although there may be relevant resources to consult, it is unlikely that students will find an overwhelming body of critical material. The novels are written for contemporary readers and the response of those readers is paramount.
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INTRODUCTION
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Cambridge University Press 978-0-521-71249-1 - Contemporary Fiction: The Novel since 1990 Pamela Bickley Frontmatter More information How this book is organised Part 1: Reading contemporary fiction This section addresses key questions which dominate discussions of the genre, and identifies characteristic preoccupations of the novel in this period. Part 2: Approaching the texts This section introduces different ways in which fictional texts can be analysed, through discussion of a range of literary works. Part 3: Texts and extracts Part 3 offers a selection of extracts, chosen to illustrate different types of writing in the period. The extracts can be used as a basis for textual analysis and discussion. Part 4: Critical approaches to contemporary fiction In this section, different critical perspectives are introduced with some discussion of how these can be applied to specific texts. Part 5: How to write about contemporary fiction Part 5 aims to offer advice about structuring written work on fictional texts, using a range of suggested assignments. Part 6: Resources This section includes suggested further reading on the novel, a brief glossary of relevant critical terms and a chronology listing texts cited in the book with brief reference to contextual information.
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CONTEMPORARY FICTION
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