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About this book

Peter Childs offers accessible analyses of the work of twelve prominent contemporary British writers, including Hanif Kureishi, Pat Barker, Zadie Smith and Jeanette Winterson. This expanded second edition has been revised and updated throughout, and now also features a new chapter on the younger "generation" of novelists born in the 1970s.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Novel Today and Yesterday

Abstract
While the novel today seems to be flourishing in what David Lodge has called an ‘aesthetic supermarket’ (PW, 11), it is worth recalling that the novel’s obituary has been written on several occasions — most prominently in the 1960s — only for fiction to have shown itself full of life. Indeed, as long ago as 1944 a panel including Graham Greene, Rose Macaulay, Evelyn Waugh, and E. M. Forster was asked to discuss one pressing but clearly premature question: ‘Is the novel dead?’ (Smith, 27).
Peter Childs

Timeline

Without Abstract
Peter Childs

1. Martin Amis: Lucre, Love, and Literature

Abstract
In one of Martin Amis’s novels, a character complains: ‘That’s not realism That’s — it’s vandalism’ (M, 226). The accusation has also been levelled at the novel’s author more than once because of his linguistic excesses. Amis (b. 1949) is principally seen as a stylist and a satirist; his books are often more praised for their use of language than for their subject matter, which has been criticized for its WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) insularity. The emphasis on style is in accord with Amis’s own views on what is important in fiction. His major collection of essays and reviews was published in 2001 under the title of an article he wrote about James Joyce’s Ulysses: The War against Cliché. The book’s title expresses a stance Amis has inherited from one of his chief literary influences, Vladimir Nabokov, who ‘regarded cliché as the key to bad art’ (WAC, 245).
Peter Childs

2. Pat Barker: In the Shadow of Monstrosities

Abstract
A writer whose work circles around themes of gender and sexuality, class and history, war and violence, Pat Barker (b. 1943) was raised by her grandmother after her father was killed in action during the Second World War. She lived her early life on Teesside, went to school in Stockton, and came to full-time writing after studying international history at the London School of Economics and working as a teacher. In 1983 the Book Marketing Council named her as one of the 20 ‘Best Young British Novelists’, though she had only then published one novel. Barker has said that she is very interested in myths about sexuality and in attitudes towards the socially marginalized, particularly women. She openly questions the effect stereotyping has on women fighting against an ineffective and hierarchized public welfare system which treats them as inferior citizens.
Peter Childs

3. Julian Barnes: ‘A Mixture of Genres’

Abstract
Julian Barnes (b. 1946), who has also published detective fiction under the pseudonym Dan Kavanagh, became in 2011 the first novelist of his generation to win the prestigious David Cohen prize for a lifetime’s achievement in literature for a British or Irish writer in the English language. He is best known for self-reflexive writing that mixes fiction with other forms, such as history, memoir, and the polemical essay. He has also written more conventional novels, which have generally been accorded far less critical attention. His first book, Metroland (1980), is a story in three parts set in different periods in the life of Christopher Lloyd; appropriately, it follows the relationship of its protagonist with three people: his wife Marion, his French lover Annick, and his school friend Toni. In the first, semi-autobiographical part, set in 1963, Toni and Christopher are suburban London adolescents contemptuous of the banality of the English middle classes and enamoured of the main ingredients of Bohemian life: art, free sex, and all things French. Part two sees Christopher studying in France during the May 1968 riots, though he confesses he is more interested in sampling Gallic passion and Parisian charm than in politics.
Peter Childs

4. Angela Carter: The Demythologizing Business

Abstract
In A History of the World in 10½ Chapters, Julian Barnes uses the phrase: ‘Myth will become reality’ (181). This is a sentiment that sits at the heart of Angela Carter’s (1940–92) writings, the most well known of which are nine novels and four collections of short fiction — though these represent only a part of her published work. Carter also authored children’s stories, poetry, radio plays, and film and television scripts. She additionally wrote several introductions, including that to the Virago edition of Jane Eyre, and translated or edited a number of works, notably the first and second Virago Book of Fairy Tales. Most importantly for interpretations of her fiction, she published volumes of selected writings, Nothing Sacred (1982) and Expletives Deleted (1992), and an ‘exercise in cultural history’, The Sadeian Woman (1979). All of Carter’s work can be considered part of the same project to demythologize the naturalized fictions surrounding gender and sexuality. Hermione Lee has identified Carter ‘with a feminism which employs antipatriarchal satire, Gothic fantasy, and the subversive rewriting of familiar myths and stories, to embody alternative, Utopian recommendations for human behaviour’ (Sage ed., 310).
Peter Childs

5. Kazuo Ishiguro: Remain in Dreams

Abstract
Kazuo Ishiguro (b. 1954) has published six novels to date, all concerned with individuals scanning their current and past lives for clues to their sense of identity, loss, or abandonment. Ishiguro has also produced a collection of thematically interlinked stories, Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall (2009) and published a handful of short stories separately (three appeared in 1981 in Introductions 7: Stories by New Writers). He has additionally written the screenplay for The White Countess (2005), collaborated with George Toles and Guy Maddin on the script for the 2003 surrealistic film The Saddest Music in the World and written two plays for television, A Profile of Arthur J. Mason and The Gourmet, both commissioned in 1982 and transmitted by Channel 4 in the 1980s. Though some critics have sought to place Ishiguro in a Japanese tradition, he has himself most frequently cited Dostoevsky, Kafka, Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, and above all Chekhov as his major influences.
Peter Childs

6. Hanif Kureishi: In Black and White

Abstract
A restless and versatile writer, Hanif Kureishi (b. 1954) has worked as widely as any leading British novelist. He began his career as a playwright, has published extensively as an essayist, is an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, and has written radio plays and collections of short stories as well as novels. In common with the narrators of both The Buddha of Suburbia and Intimacy, Kureishi has a British mother and an Indian father, who came to England from Bombay at the time of India’s partition in 1947 while most of his large family went to live in Karachi. The only Asian boy at his school, Kureishi found himself caught between the working-class life of his friends in Bromley and the privileged background of his father’s family in Pakistan. He later studied philosophy at King’s College, London, while at the same time working at the Royal Court Theatre, where he first had a play performed in 1976.
Peter Childs

7. Ian McEwan: The Child in Us All

Abstract
In Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, a little joke about the literary in-crowd is made through a reference to some smart white kids in the corner of the playground called Ian, Mart and Jules. However, in spite of his reputation for the macabre, Ian McEwan (b. 1948) is generally perceived as a more serious, and less postmodernist writer than the two authors with whom he is most often grouped: Martin Amis and Julian Barnes. In fact, despite the early accusations of sensationalism made against him, his approach to fiction has more in common with the reflective humanism of Kazuo Ishiguro, another graduate of the Creative Writing Masters course at the University of East Anglia.
Peter Childs

8. Salman Rushdie: A Long Geographical Perspective

Abstract
From a Muslim family background, (Ahmed) Salman Rushdie (b. 1947) is an imaginative fabulist and a secular humanist who has become a central figure in debates over the tensions between the right to freedom of speech and the religious and legislative sanctions against blasphemy. He is an author who has always embraced his cultural hybridity as a position that allows both a richer mix of experience for his writing and a better appreciation of the postcolonial condition. The borderline position occupied by Rushdie, like Omar Khayyam in Shame, is one that he believes makes him uniquely placed to perceive the differences between ethnocentric histories. Rushdie elsewhere argues that expatriate writers, having what he calls a ‘long geographical perspective’, are able to offer alternative histories to the official ones because they are situated within neither of the dominant ideologies.
Peter Childs

9. Zadie Smith: Searching for the Inescapable

Abstract
Zadie Smith (b. 1975) was the first British literary celebrity of the twenty-first century. Her debut White Teeth (2000) was released to the accompaniment of a barrage of publicity and seemed to be the most assured first novel by a 24-year-old Oxbridge graduate since Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall (1928). Of a different generation from the other authors in this study, she presents a more eclectic and exuberant image of modern British society than most writers born in the forties and fifties.
Peter Childs

10. Graham Swift: Past Present

Abstract
To date Graham Swift (b. 1949) has published nine novels, one book of essays, and one collection of short stories. His work is remarkably consistent in its concentration on ordinary language and its emphasis on ordinary lives. Swift’s novels almost invariably allow the central characters to tell their own story, but use disturbed chronology, reminiscence, and flashback to juxtapose individuals and situations across time, casting the borrowed light of the past on family relationships in the present. His first book, The Sweet Shop Owner (1980), is his only novel narrated in the third person, though the extensive use of free indirect speech and strong focalization through the main character’s eyes make it read at times like a first-person narration. As much concerned as his later work with revealing the extraordinary in seemingly unexceptional lives, Swift’s first novel tells the story of the last day in the life of the eponymous Willy Chapman: a widower whose only child, Dorry, is estranged from him. Typical of Swift’s fictional method, the book unfolds a plain story in the present while the protagonist mines his memories of the past. Willy, who has (and has been) offered money instead of intimacy all his life, has decided to commit suicide so that his daughter can have her full inheritance.
Peter Childs

11. Irvine Welsh: Sex and Drugs and Violence

Abstract
Starting as a novelist, Irvine Welsh (b. 1958 [sometimes cited as 1961]) has also become a writer for theatre, film, and television. Though his debut has become the most famous Scottish novel of recent decades, Trainspotting (1993) appeared over a decade after Scottish fiction was given a shot in the arm by the publication of Alasdair Gray’s Lanark (1981), and some years after the first appearance of fiction by James Kelman, whose How late it was, how late became the first Scottish novel to win the Booker Prize in 1994. Welsh is now one of the established names of the Scottish new wave, alongside such writers as Janice Galloway, Iain Banks, Alan Warner, and A. L. Kennedy.
Peter Childs

12. Jeanette Winterson: Boundaries and Desire

Abstract
In addition to numerous novels, Jeanette Winterson (b. 1959) has writ ten short stories, film scripts, essays and even a guide to well being. In interview, Winterson has said that she is interested in strong emotions like love and desire because they recreate the world and are: ‘a chance element which unsettles all the rules, which forces people back onto their own resources, and away from their habits. … Always in my books, I like to throw that rogue element into a stable situation and then see what happens’ (‘Salon Interview’, 28 April 1997). Adopted by members of a Pentecostal church, she was raised as a working-class evangelist in Lancashire: an upbringing which provided the material for her first and still best-known novel. Though the basic details of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985) correspond to the facts of Winterson’s early life, she has said that the novel is no more autobiographical than her other fiction. Instead, she has referred to the book as ‘a fiction masquerading as a memoir’ (AO, 53). It is a novel that interweaves a realist Bildungsroman with episodic fairy tales, most of which feature Winnet Stonejar, an alter ego for the novel’s protagonist, Jeanette.
Peter Childs

13. New Novelists

Abstract
The books that have been examined in this study scrutinize a range of subjects from the oldest myths of racial and gendered identity to modern addictions like screen culture and drugs. Contemporary British fiction is now enormously varied but much of it in recent decades has shared a common concern with issues of historical and ethnic identity. These have emerged as conspicuous themes after the preoccupation with gender and form in the 1970s and alongside conjectural writing on the effects of Thatcherism and capitalism in the 1980s. Fiction in the twenty-first century is increasingly pluralistic as a new generation of novelists redraws the fictional map, fusing the styles and themes of the last thirty years with those emerging on a cultural scene in which diversity and plurality thrive, such that, in terms of the contem porary British novel, while it may be decreasingly clear what ‘British’ and ‘the novel’ mean there are growing signs of a will ingness and an ability to chronicle the contemporary.
Peter Childs

14. Conclusion

Abstract
The most valued novels are sometimes those produced outside of the mainstream. The vitality of the genre is not to be witnessed solely in the works routinely celebrated in the press and in the prize awards, but also in the alternative voices that often most strongly encourage the reader to see, in Paul Ricoeur’s words, ‘oneself as another’.
Peter Childs
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