In this absorbing series of essays Michael Wood probes and plays with the dilemmas of twentieth century fiction - the myth of lost paradise, lost certainties, the suspension between contrary ideals, the lure of fantasy, the quest for the silence beneath speech. Wood's net is cast wide, from fables to novels, and he takes due account of personal and political context and of wider cultural and critical currents, noting fiction's swerving resistance to `history'. A superb essay on Roland Barthes is juxtaposed with a dissection of Beckett's prose comedy; an investigation of three Cuban writers -Cortazar, Cabrera Infante and Arenas - is followed by illuminating essays on Milan Kundera and Italo Calvino. In the second half of the book, the exploration of time, form and fantasy, and of the break with modernism, continues in studies of Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison, Angela Carter, Kazuo Ishiguro, Salman Rushdie, Paul Auster and Jeanette Winterson. Rich with pleasures, spiked with insights, provocative and satisfying, this is one of the most exciting explorations of contemporary literature in recent years.