Fictional Dialogue: Speech and Conversation in the Modern and Postmodern Novel

By Bronwen Thomas | Go to book overview

Appendix
Last Orders: An Analysis of a Chapter
from Graham Swift’s Novel

Note: where “aint” appears in quotation below, I follow the practice of the novel in omitting the apostrophe.

For reasons of space and practicality, in previous chapters it has not always been possible to offer exhaustive analyses of lengthy extracts taken from the novels under discussion. I have also argued against the “scenic” approach, in which an analysis focuses on a chapter or section of a novel as though it were freestanding and unconnected to the surrounding narrative. However, it is important to offer a demonstration of how the arguments put forward in this book might inform a detailed analysis, as well as how the incorporation of tools and terms from linguistics relates to the theoretical claims I have been making. Thus in what follows I focus on an example of what Goffman (1981, 131) calls a “nicely bounded social encounter” while also recognizing, as he does, the problem of “blithely” labeling such encounters as autonomous.

Graham Swift’s Last Orders traces the journey of a group of men who come together to carry out the last wishes of a London butcher, Jack Dodds, leading them along a circuitous route from the city to the sea where they finally scatter Jack’s ashes. Described as “polyphonic” (Bernard 1997) in its style, the chapters are mainly focalized through the perspectives of the various male characters, though occasionally the voices of the female characters break through. In addition to opening up the text to different perspectives, the foregrounding of the vernacular ensures that the novel is heteroglossic in the Bakhtinian sense (see introduction). For Emma Parker (2003), the novel is predominantly an exploration of male spaces and an incisive exploration of the twin crises of masculinity and Englishness experienced by the central group of men. This sense of crisis or decline is highlighted by the narrative structure of the novel, which intersperses scenes set in the present with those taken from the characters’ past. Chapter titles use both character names and the names of the various places the men pass through on their journey, and the style of the novel remains close to the oral, foregrounding the vernacular in a manner very reminiscent of Bakhtin’s (1984, 8) notion of skaz: “a technique or mode of narration that imitates the oral speech of an individualized narrator.” Moreover, within many of the chapters narrated by these individualized narrators, conversational exchanges and the reporting of others’ words are prominent.

Despite Daniel Lea’s (2005) claim that Last Orders is made up of a “refreshingly

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Fictional Dialogue: Speech and Conversation in the Modern and Postmodern Novel
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Theory 13
  • 1 - Debates about Realism 15
  • 2 - The “Idea of Dialogue” 36
  • Part II - Narrative Cornerstones 55
  • 3 - Speech, Character, and Intention 57
  • 4 - Dialogue in Action 74
  • 5 - Framing 95
  • Part III - Genre and Medium 111
  • 6 - Dialogue and Genre 113
  • 7 - The Alibi of Interaction Dialogue and New Technologies 129
  • 8 - Stuck in a Loop? Dialogue in Hypertext Fiction 152
  • Conclusion 170
  • Appendix - Last Orders- An Analysis of a Chapter from Graham Swift’s Novel 175
  • Notes 183
  • Bibliography 187
  • Index 201
  • In the Frontiers of Narrative Series 213
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