Culture Wars reviews contemporary fiction along with regular feature coverage of fiction festivals such as Jewish Book Week and prizes like the Orange Prize and Man Booker.
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We never know much about these characters. Throughout the novel they remain a sort of raped, diseased and abused lumpen conglomerate, differentiated only by various repulsive physical characteristics and traits such as Elizabeth Device’s odd eyes, Jennet’s starving devouring of food (chicken including all the bones) and James’ madness etc.
So far, so conventional — we might think. An injustice waiting to be resolved, a detective with a backstory of demons, all par for the conventional crime novel course. But this is where we make a classic detection error — leaping to judgement before all the evidence is gathered. In unfolding the story, Unsworth doesn’t simply deal with the issue of a possible wrong that needs righting. She leads us — with the aid of ﬂashbacks to the time of the killing - on a journey into the underbelly of small-town life.
For the most part Richmal Crompton’s books for adults have been forgotten, eclipsed by her all-encompassing reputation as a children’s writer. Crompton herself once regretfully acknowledged that William Brown, her supreme literary creation, had become her ‘Frankenstein’s monster’. Does the infantile furore surrounding her book’s publication point to JK Rowling sharing Crompton’s fate?
What is most refreshing about the story is its understated defiant quality. At a time when too much contemporary fiction seems expected to deliver superficial messages, it is good to read something based on more acute and genuine social observation.
What Carver’s collection bears out, though, is the way the real craftsmanship of good authors lies not in any superficial treatment of words as such – the editor’s art - but in a whole approach to the subject-matter.
Ideas for his characters may come from people he meets or sees, but on the whole he spends a lot of time creating them, imagining a back story for them so that he can feel how they will react in different circumstances. The more time he spends with them the more real they become and sometimes he is even surprised by how they react.
If science fiction writers have been right about the future before, what are more contemporary authors saying and could they really come true as well. Some may argue they already are! George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ or indeed Anthony Burgess’ ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Both predict dystopias dominated by mind control and surveillance? Chime any chords?
What Ever Happened to Modernism? indeed proposes its own definition of Modernism to reveal that it is more to do with a synchronic ‘structure of feeling’, to paraphrase Raymond Williams, than with a continuum in time. Modernism here refers to idiosyncratic approaches to art linked together by the wish to come to terms with the meaning of life and the value of language.
The combustion engine is crude, a barely harnessed explosion upon which the conveyed rides as if it didn’t exist. Yet the car occupies an exalted space in a human being’s life: people name them; lavish upon them more affection than they do their sexual partner; become emotionally attached to the fate of metal, glass and plastic.
The reader is inevitably searching for the eventual links between the two narratives; and, intriguingly, so is Ted, the contemporary father, hunting for these same explanations in his life, but cleverly the reader is just ahead of poor Ted in realising the inevitable denouement. When you can see you have only a few pages to go, and how on earth will the author resolve the conundrum, she teases you yet again with a ‘not quite yet’, until eventually the inevitable occurs.
Meyer chose as his setting the Mon Valley near Pittsburgh, a wasted post-industrial region, where the relics of the abandoned steel industry stand rusting in the landscape, and there is no employment for the next generation. So this turns out to be the antithesis of the Great American Dream: no job prospects, no optimism, and the only way up is out.
The novel starts with a heart being thrown from a passing train to the roofs over Borough Market. Though it is very clearly stated that it is a human heart, the reader might find the imagery so unlikely that one might think about the heart as something fantastic or metaphorical.
When Billy Pilgrim is abducted by aliens, this does not mean he was taken to the reality of his train of thought or stream of consciousness; it does not have a metaphorical meaning. In the context of Slaughterhouse 5, Billy Pilgrim really is abducted by aliens – or at least it has been written to be understood as so; this does not sustain an ‘allegorical’ or ‘poetic’ interpretation.
The splicing of scenes together to make them unfold concurrently and intermittently, a device commonly used in movies, but easily taken for granted, is surprisingly thought inducing in written form. But the offshoot of this script-like style is unfortunately, a rather monotonous matter-of-factness that irritates from an early stage.
Énard sumptuously evokes the fragile Constantinople in transition, as she slipped from being the spiritual and political hub of the ancient Holy Roman Empire, into the hands of the marauding Islamic conquerors, who were now, under the rule of Sultan Bayezid, moulding and transforming the city in their own idealised image.