Contemporary Fiction

Contemporary Fiction

Contemporary Fiction

Contemporary Fiction


This is the ideal guide for those studying contemporary fiction for the first time. The last twenty-five years have seen an explosion of new developments in the English language novel. Because of its enormous diversity, however, the field of contemporary fiction studies can appear complex and confusing. Jago Morrison's Contemporary Fiction provides a much-needed accessible introduction to the field. He enables readers to navigate the subject by introducing the key areas of debate and offers in-depth discussions of many of the most significant texts. Writers examined include: Ian McEwan, Maxine Hong Kingston, Jeanette Winterson, Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, Angela Carter, Hanif Kureishi, Buchi Emecheta and Alice Walker. Tackling issues such as history, time and narrative, the body, race and ethnicity, this represents an important contribution to the understanding of contemporary fiction.


After the end of the novel

For several decades after the end of the Second World War, the novel appeared to be dead. As a vehicle for literary experimentation, on the one hand, it had been taken to the limits by modernists like Joyce, Woolf and Beckett. And, on the other hand, beset by the mass media of film, television and computers, book fiction could not hope to survive as a form of entertainment. For many commentators in the 1960s, fiction’s fate seemed sealed. In 1962 the American theorist Marshall McLuhan caught the mood of many with his study The Gutenberg Galaxy, arguing that new electronic media were the future for human communication. The printed book itself, with its conformity, linearity and traditions of elitism, was about to be made obsolete by the technologies of a new, postliterate age.

Perhaps understandably, throughout this period the defensiveness of fiction writers is palpable. It is with a brittle irony that the postmodernist John Barth describes himself in 1967 as a ‘print-oriented bastard’, referring to the attacks of McLuhanites on the novel and novelists in general. In his famous essay ‘The Literature of Exhaustion’ Barth admits to a suspicion that the time of the novel may be up. In the same way that, in earlier eras, great forms such as classical tragedy, grand opera or the sonnet sequence had eventually succumbed to exhaustion, perhaps the novel had reached the end of its useful life.

In a book that reads like an obituary, a similar assessment is offered by Leslie Fiedler in Waiting for the End: The American Literary Scene (1965). According to Fiedler, the deaths of Hemingway and Faulkner at the beginning of the 1960s marked the end of the great age of US fiction. Little remained for contemporary writers but to fiddle amongst the ruins:

There are various ways to declare the death of the novel: to mock it while seeming to emulate it, like Nabokov, or John Barth; to reify it into a collection of objects like Robbe-Grillet; or to explode it, like . . .

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