The British novel since 1945 is a subject of some interest and an area of critical dispute. Is the post-war British novel largely sterile and insular, as some commentators have suggested, or is it inventive and experimental? Even where it explicitly rejects experiment, is that rejection thought-out and principled, and perhaps even a cover for subtle kinds of experimentation? The British novel is clearly a vital field developing in complex ways in the interrelations of older and newer [End Page 520] generations of writers, of traditionalists and experimenters, and of writers who can be classed as "traditionally British" and those from "outside." These four studies are all interesting if finally limited treatments of topics central to the novel tradition in the British Isles.
Acheson's collection of essays is a brave attempt (in approximately 200 pages!) to study this complex subject from 1960 to the present. A number of the essays are excellent. Judy Little's chapter on Muriel Spark convinces one that this (Scottish) writer is a major figure. The discussion of Spark's "use of both realistic and non-mimetic techniques" is clear, as is the placing of Newman as an underlying influence on her work. Jocelyn Harris provides a good overview of Doris Lessing's career and development, while Lance St. John Butler's discussion of Fowles's fiction and its transition from an existentialist to a post-structuralist world-view (Sartre to Derrida) is very well done. James Gindin is convincing on Golding's movement toward a greater historical specificity in setting, and Gail Cunningham puts forward powerful arguments for revaluing Margaret Drabble's work. One is very pleased to see contemporary novelists like Graham Swift and Julian Barnes given serious critical attention in David Leon Higdon's illuminating discussion of narrative technique. And it is good to see lesser-known writers such as Buchi Emecheta, Timothy Mo, and Kazuo Ishiguro mentioned in Bruce King's essay. The collection is also noteworthy for the space it gives to Irish writers such as Mary Lavin, Julia O'Faolain, John McGahern, and John Banville.
Nevertheless the collection has some serious flaws. John Fletcher's essay on Iris Murdoch is unfocussed; David Punter simply has too much to do in trying to discuss Angela Carter and Russell Hoban in one chapter; and Acheson manages to talk about Lodge and Bradbury without really indicating that their novels are first and foremost funny. One worries too that so many essays work on a purely thematic level, a result surely of simply trying to do too much. And then there are the omissions. No Jean Rhys, no Anita Brookner, no William Trevor, no Alasdair Gray (the Scots get a raw deal in this study). One wonders why. But Acheson is to be praised. Could any other editor have done better over 200 pages?
In Pursuit of Doris Lessing attempts to give some account of the contentious, protean, and cosmopolitan figure of Doris Lessing. A fascinating book, it is presented as a piece of practical reader-response criticism which considers how Lessing has been received in nine nations. The editor, Claire Sprague, argues "that Lessing is read differently in each country. In a critical climate that insists on the relativity of the text, these variations are compelling rather than confusing." Certainly some of the essays are very interesting indeed. Three stand out in particular: Anthony Chennells's piece on the Rhodesian/Zimbabwean reception of Lessing, Eve Bertelsen's on that in South Africa, and Virginia Tiger's on Canadian responses. Chennells provides a Rhodesian/Zimbabwean political and literary context for Lessing's stories, and argues tellingly that her African stories, despite their hostility...