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Mahmoud Salami. John Fowles's Fiction and the Poetics of Postmodernism. London and Toronto: Associated UP, 1992. 302 pp. $45.69.

This reassessment of Fowles' oeuvre in the context of modern critical theory and narrative poetics promises to revive critical interest in his work. Dr. Salami presents Fowles as a novelist whose primary theme is the writing process itself, and who brings to his task all the tools of the postmodernist writer. In the first chapter Salami establishes Fowles' rejection of the classic realist text and identifies major traits of postmodernism in his writing. Subsequent chapters provide self-contained studies of the fictional works, in addition to furthering the general argument of the book. The last chapter [End Page 403] consolidates this argument in light of some of Fowles' non-fictional writing and offers a spirited defense of postmodernist literature against Terry Eagleton's charge that it is not serious and Fredric Jameson's claim that it is not political. Each chapter offers its own rewarding discussion, but those on Mantissa and A Maggot are particularly noteworthy. In the case of A Maggot, Salami provides the first substantial assessment of this text in the context of Fowles' published work.

If the essence of literary postmodernism centers on the challenging, subverting, or exploiting of the conventions in texts, then Fowles writing is thoroughly postmodern. In three basic areas Salami sees him breaking with the strictures of conventional realism: (i) in the realm of illusionism Fowles challenges reality through literary games, to the point of denying that he knows his own characters; (ii) with respect to narrative closure Fowles' texts are renowned for their circularity, optional endings, and incompleteness; and (iii) the texts further break with the traditional hierarchy of discourses, presenting multiple narrators from The Collector through to A Maggot. Salami's study emphasizes Fowles' self-conscious play with fiction itself and the interests in feminism and socialism, but he also addresses the long love affair with existentialism and Fowles' fixation with history.

In meditating on the techniques of producing fiction, Fowles constantly puts in question his own authority as author. In The Collector he hides behind the alternative first-person narrators, Miranda and Clegg. Since their accounts are not consistent with each other, the reader must fill in the gaps and bring sense to the narrative. This same device is developed in The Magus, with stories contributed by different characters, none of whom has any clear claim to the "truth." Salami writes here that "[t]he problem of authority . . . is overshadowed by the constant deferment of meaning." In fact, the novel refuses to endorse any set meaning, preferring the constant rewriting of human lives. This is graphically captured in the image of the bonfire (one overlooked by Salami) which obscures the last few pages with its smoke, recalling the time when Conchis had taken all the fiction from his house and burnt it in a bonfire, and giving impact to the book's last English line: "And somewhere the stinging smell of burning leaves."

Although Salami does not draw attention to it, Fowles' work is replete with such burning leaves, as fictions are left off, restarted, duplicated. Fowles goes to great lengths to place himself among his characters, another element within their fictional world. Perhaps this is best seen in The French Lieutenant's Woman, where he drops the stance of omniscient narrator at a critical point in the text and joins the action as a character named "I." After this, the deferment of meanings in the open-endedness of multiple conclusions to the novel seems appropriate, if still surprising.

Yet Fowles is unable to efface himself completely; his is still the perspective which determines the alternatives from which the reader might choose. This, and other problems of technique, pulls him back to try it all again in the stories of The Ebony Tower. Salami is at his near-best when showing how these stories, while all being variations on Fowles' translation [End Page 404] of the medieval romance Eliduc, constitute rewritings of the main ideas of the previous novels. Indicating another postmodernist ploy, Salami observes that "there is no origin or single meaning to...


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pp. 403-406
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