- Reviewed by
Margaret Scanlan's study, which provides absorbing analyses of a number of contemporary British novels, invites praise. In three parts she moves from works as different as J. G. Farrell's Troubles, to Iris Murdoch's Nuns and Soldiers, to Doris Lessing's Children of Violence, and Anthony Burgess' The End of the World News.
Her particular interest is Britain's relationship with Ireland, Republic and North (her movement between references to England and references to Britain is somewhat annoying). This interest leads to the strongest section in the book "Part One: Troubles in Ireland." In those three chapters, Scanlan's argument that in contemporary fiction "we find a rebirth and development of the sceptical and critical history novel that Thackeray wrote" finds its most cohesive presentation in her readings of novels by Murdoch, Bowen, Farrell, and works by less well known Irish writers like Thomas Kilroy and Bernard MacLaverty.
More diffuse and less satisfying is her second section "Losing Confidence: Spies and Other Aliens" where her inclusion of chapters on fiction influenced by Kim Philby's story and Murdoch's Nuns and Soldiers seems a forced fit. Once again, however, I must note that the chapters themselves arc very absorbing.
Scanlan writes clearly and displays a real command of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century novel; she has read widely and makes effective use of examples. She draws on contemporary historiography and literary theory to buttress her readings of the novels, and, as Alvin Kiernan aptly notes on the book jacket, "The theory, most of which is quietly assumed rather than flaunted and agonized over, is very impressive." [End Page 623]