Conclusion

I have argued throughout this book that, despite much received wisdom, Holocaust fiction which is unaccommodating to the reader may be more successful in conveying the disruption and unease that the subject demands than more seamless, aesthetically pleasing work. The examples I have discussed show that although there are no norms where fiction about the Holocaust is concerned, critical estimates tend towards establishing them. Fine imaginative prose, particularly when written by an author with good credentials, is valued more highly than generically unstable, intertextual, ironic or experimental texts. The fact that Martin Amis's Time's Arrow has received as polarized a reception as the manifestly less subtle Sophie's Choice bears this out. Amis's sure and inventive handling of novelistic form leads to accusations of bad faith, as poor artistry is harder to prove; indeed, whereas William Styron's novel at times sinks under the weight of its imperfectly digested sources, Amis's is in perfect control of them.

As I have argued, intertextuality is very likely be the central element in Holocaust fiction; even Anne Michaels's mostly imaginative Fugitive Pieces concludes with a section acknowledging anterior sources. Thomas Keneally's Schindler's List registers in unexpected ways its reliance on witness testimony; its status as the biography of a hero is in constant tension with its author's necessary reliance on the words of victims. D.M. Thomas's The White Hotel revolves self-consciously around its main borrowing; indeed, the horrible revelation of its character's destiny and the revelation that to describe certain events the author must resort to the historical record are simultaneous. The case of Helen Darville's The Hand that Signed the Paper shows the eageraess with which extratextual material is seized upon where Holocaust representation is at stake, and the literary liability this can become if the author is not vigilant. The Painted Bird suffered from the same syndrome, as its author allowed himself to be tempted to exaggerate his experiences during the war in order to establish his legitimacy as a Holocaust novelist and his book's 'authenticity'. However, The Painted Bird does work much better as a novel than as any kind of testimony.

The two issues which are most central to the negative reception of much Holocaust fiction-even more so than the literary matter of intertextuality-are

-161-

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Holocaust Fiction
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - Formal Matters 11
  • Chapter 2 - Documentary Fiction 38
  • Chapter 3 - Autobiographical Fiction 67
  • Chapter 4 - Faction 90
  • Chapter 5 - Melodrama 117
  • Chapter 6 - Historical Polemic 141
  • Conclusion 161
  • Notes 168
  • Bibliography 229
  • Index 233
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