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560 LETTERS IN CANADA 1997 times marred by stylistie awkwardness and repetitiveness while the book's six thematically.arranged chapters are anything but self-explanatory. Nonetheless, this volume is a welcon1e introduction to the work of a neglected Canadian talent; its bibliography and notes facilitate further reading, and, above all, it makes an intelligent plea for a closer, less schematized look at the work of a poet whose very essence, Kanaganayakam argues, is in fluidity, change, and lyrical becoming. (CHRISTOPHER LEVENSON) Frederick M. Holmes. The Historical Imagination: Postmodernism and the Treatment of the Past in Contemporan; British Fiction English Literary Studies. g6. $26.oo Frederick Holmes's aim in this study is to discuss the treatment of history in eight contemporary British novels: John Fowles's A Maggot, Peter Ackroyd's Chatterton, Nigel Williams's Star Turn, Jeanette Winterson's The Passion, Julian Barnes's A History ofthe World in 101h Chapters, A.S. Byatt's Possession, Penelope Lively's Moon Tiger, and Graham Swift's Ever After. The discussion is divided into five chapters, which analyse the relation between narrative form and history as a narrative theme; the relation between textual fragmentation and what the author calls the 'dialogic nature of history'; the 'tragic' or apocalyptic attitude towards the past; and the crises of identity brought about for human agents by historical forces. The final chapter illustrates how these eight novels distrust but do not abandon hope of historical reconstruction. Arguing that these novels often celebrate the incompleteness of history, Holmes maintains throughout the study that 'by trying to establish continuity with past eras and long-dead individuals, the novels' characters are trying to imbue their own lives with the values associated with those times and people ... A fear shared by these authors is that the exercise of the historical' imagination might have the unintended, perverse effect of casting a deathly pall over the living, rather than resurrecting the dead.' This slim book is written clearly and does reference a number of other studies by literary critics, such as Alison Lee's Realism and Power (1990), which concerns a very similar line-up of contemporary British fiction. The fact that Holmes does not bring new texts or authors to the critical discussion about British fiction and history is not in itself a problem with this study; indeed, one might argue that his work continues to consolidate the place of these texts within the British literary canon. However, unlike studies such as Lee's, this discussion begs the question of why these novels are 'postmodernist' by not defining early on how that term will be understood in the study or by examining novels outside the 'postmodernist' frame. Neither does Holmes's discussion locate these novels in a material HUMANITIES 561 context, as does, for instance, Patricia Waugh's Harvest ofthe Sixties: English Literature and its Background 1960 to 1990 (1995)- a text that also discusses the books appearing in Holmes's study. Useful would be a more developed discussion of how national origin intersects with both postmodernism and perspectives on history in these eight novels and why (since postmodemism can be understood as an international phenomenon) the author chose to limit his discussion to British fiction. Holmes states that his own political positioning in relation to these texts is 'liberal humanist' but also nonfoundationalist - a stance that seemsphilosophically contradictory and one that might lead him away from poststructuralist and materialist analyses and perhaps a richer or more sophisticated theoretical apparatus. While he cites the work of historiographers Dominick LaCapra and Hayden White, and numerous other critics and theorists, Holmes never completely engages with the theoretical premises of these often antifoundationalist works. Holmes makes a convincing case, however, that in these novels 'Faith in the grand design of history may have lapsed, but the desire for what has been lost remains.' His discussion's thematic organizationnicely avoids the monotony of a book-by-book discussion. Holmes's analyses of these novels are sensitive, sensible, and logically assembled, and he identifies a central paradox in these novels: How can the exercise of the historical imagination 'be redemptive if the effect is to plunge us back into the flow of time, change.. decay...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 560-561
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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