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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, and death rather than to lift us above it?' This is a revealing question, one that seems hopeful, if not particularly postmodemist or antifoundationalist, in its assumptions. (AMY J. ELIAS) James King. Tlze Life ofMargaret Laurence Knopf Canada. xxi, 457· $34.95 As W.H. Auden's biographer Humphrey Carpenter reminds us, biography results from the interaction between the writer and the subject: 'in reality there's the most enormous amount of selection ... having finished writing a biography, one could go back to the source material and write several completely different lives of the same person.' The story that James King has chosen to tell about Margaret Laurence challenges the public image of Canada's major novelist, anybody's grandmother, the 'first lady of Manawaka,' as she appears in her posthumous memoir Dance on the Earth (1989). In this book the older Laurence tells her story as a writer nurtured by three strong women, and depicts herself as an individual who tried hard to maintain her role as wife and mother until faced with a bitter choice of wife or writer. For this familiar icon James King offers a reading of a more arrogant and powerful Laurence (epitomized by the photograph on the dust jacket) who is paradoxically a weaker and possibly less truthful subject, mortally 562 LETTERS IN CANADA 1997 wounded by the loss of her parents at an early age and later isolated by her divorce from her husband, Jack. King views Laurence's memoir as an 'apologia' in which 'the complexities of the autobiographer's existence are scarcely hinted at' and aims to reveal 'the real Margaret Laurence,' the shadow side of a cultural icon. Consequently, this biography functions as a conunentary on the events, people, and photographs in the memoir while following the basic plot of the life as delineated by Laurence. This has two disadvantages: the first is that the biographer concentrates on familiar material, the second is that it puts a snaffle on Pegasus - the focus of the biography swerves from the woman writer to the woman. As thenew revelations of thisbiography concern her decision to take her own life (rather than suffer terminal cancer as a burden to her family and friends, information not released at her· death but explicit in her unpublished journals), the book opens and closes with her suicide. There are pressures on the family generated by her writing, problems with alcoholism , love affairs, and stormy friendships. Adapting one of Laurence's primary techniques in The Diviners, King traces his subject's life through comm.entary on a series of photographs. Laurence uses photographs very skilfully to evoke both context and absence: Morag Gunn keeps her photographs 'rzot for what they show, but for wlult is hidden in...


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pp. 561-563
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