- Twenty-First Century Fiction: What Happens Now eds. by Siȃn Adiseshiah and Rupert Hildyard
The title of Siân Adiseshiah and Rupert Hildyard's Twenty-First Century Fiction: What Happens Now simultaneously promises readers that the edited collection will explore critical distinctions between twenty-first century and Postmodern fiction and imperatively suggests that we must account for this century's material and geopolitical changes. While this collection covers familiar twenty-first century issues (9/11 and globalization's significance, for instance), its exploration of homelessness, dystopian works, and surveillance pushes twenty-first century studies into new and important areas. The collection contains fourteen essays on contemporary British novelists. Adiseshiah and Hildyard have divided the essays into four categories: an engagement with past literary eras, temporal disordering, haunting, and environmental anxieties. Although each essay neatly fits within its category, nearly all of the works identify contingency and/or the "remained" as core twenty-first century issues.
In the first essay, "Such a Thing as Avant-Garde Has Ceased to Exist," Jennifer Hodgson suggests that contemporary authorial struggles mirror those of the 1960s, when novelists were castigated for creating experimental works when economically viable, Realist works were preferred. In this way, Hodgson provides a new literary history, one that she hopes "establish[es a] sense of 'historical continuity' so dearly lacking in existing accounts of the British [End Page 575] contemporary novel" (20). By exploring how 1960s British novelists bridged an interest in mass culture (a trait of Postmodernism) with Modernism's high experimentation, her account re-works the critical tendency to suggest that Postmodernism neatly replaced Modernism. The essay argues that the current literary interest in Modernism reflects a re-consideration of experimentalism as central to the British novel, which creates an alternative literary history. Hodgson's essay is useful not only for those scholars working on 1960s fiction, but also for any critics who study the "return" to Modernism.
Whereas Hodgson's work contextualizes the return to Modernism, Phil Redpath's essay on contingency and estrangement in David Peace's Occupied City and Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is remarkable for redefining contemporary Realism. Redpath suggests that twenty-first century Realism focuses on contingency, rather than fully objective, or fully knowable, histories. He uses Peace's and Summerscale's novels to highlight how the novelists draw on historical events for their premises (in both cases, the novelists explore Japanese murders) while reminding readers that their own sense of these events is contingent upon faulty attempts to create a coherent understanding of the murders through the use of bibliographies (Peace) and endnotes (Summer-scale). While these works may sound merely experimental, Redpath emphasizes that, in their search to both capture historical events and prove that history is contingent, the authors have re-defined Realism. This re-definition will doubtless have an impact on both Realist and avant-garde studies.
After Hogdson's and Redpath's essays, the collection delves into the depiction of temporal disordering in contemporary novels. While the essays cover an array of temporal disruptions (trauma, parallel universes, etc.), they nevertheless identify two main historical and cultural reasons for the prevalence of fictional temporal disordering: the transition to the new millennium and the 9/11 attacks. Of the fourteen essays in the collection, five directly center on the temporal, cleverly building upon Redpath's, as they highlight how contemporary novelists use the disordering to emphasize our inability to fully understand history, events, and memories. Arguably, the best essay in this section is Alice Bennett's, wherein she argues representations of "remains" and temporal disordering were produced by the shift from the twentieth toward the twenty-first century. She uses the fiction of Glen Duncan's Love Remains, a novel that follows [End Page 576] a woman's PTSD-related time lapses, to explore how anxieties about what "remains" after trauma mirrors worries about moving toward a new century. Meanwhile, in his astute study of Shalimar the Clown, Daniel O'Gorman argues that the novel's complex structure suggests that...