This is a work of limited scope in which I have made no effort to be comprehensive about so large a subject as the contemporary novel. Nevertheless, the title is accurate. The following pages are about contemporary novels. But they also are about certain aspects of modern thought which I believe the novels reflect. These are the influential and intellectually fashionable ideas which make up that complex and abstract whole which is often called "the modern mind."
But, since it is impossible for any individual, even a reasonably industrious literary critic, to read all the important and significant books of his time, practical limitations have to be acknowledged. Most of the books and authors discussed in the following pages are English, Irish and American, because most of the books I read and find interesting are English, Irish and American. Nearly all of them were published between 1940 and 1951. And most of the books are novels.
Some people hold the dreary and erroneous opinion that fiction is a light and inferior variety of reading, that it is more educational and even more virtuous to read a topical book of current reporting (perhaps already out of date) than to read even the finest novel. It is true that books which report the agonized spasms of our troubled world and books which diagnose its ailments and prescribe treatments are often important and interesting. But they also are often ephemeral, mistaken and downright pigheaded. They have nothing to do with the art of literature.