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Sampling of Modernism
on 24 July 2001
In the introduction, the editor, Malcom Bradbury, sets out his intention in producing this collection: one was to 'display...the achievement of some the best work produced by the strongest of...recent Britsh authors'; and the other, what Bradbury claims to be a more difficult task, to be 'broadly representative, so that the book might give not only a reasonable idea of the variety, but also the general trends and directions that have been taken by British fiction in the years since 1945'.
Bradbury succeeds in both attempts. This is not paritcularly surprising since this is Bradbury's territory. The collection contains works by some of the biggest names in British Literature: William Golding, Samuel Beckett, Graham Greene, Kingsley Amis, John Fowles, William Trevor, Ian McEwan, and Kazuo Ishiguro--to name a few. The reason, Bradbury explains, is 'that many of the authors in this collection are our major writers of prose-fiction in general'.
Some of the stories are definitely modern, with self reflexiveness, lots of white spaces, single line paragraphs, whimsical subjects, and inscrutable titles; there are pseudo-stories, stories pretending to be something else when all the while the author is trying to tell a story without letting you know the story is being told since it was the 1960's or thereabouts when the writing a straight forward story was almost a shameful act. But none of this stories are the kind found at the height of modernism, where the reader had no idea what was being said. Each of these authors are aiming at something, something new and different, and not just for the sake of only new or different, (though there are a few that fall into that) but going beyond the traditional story and exploring the truth in new ways. There are also some 'straight' acts. And these are the ones that stay in your mind, unlike the others which are fun to read for the moment but which you then tend to forget. Of the former category is Kazuo Ishiguro's tightly written gem 'A Family Supper'. A simple story about the return of a son to his native Japan after his mother's death. In the few pages Ishiguro shows the crumbling of a family. Another story in a similar mode is Graham Greene's 'The Invisble Japanese Gentlemen'. In both cases the commentary on life is left to the reader. In this category one can also include William Golding, V.S. Pritchett, William Trevor, and Ian McEwan. (Here the author simply leaves this thread and jumps to something else).
If you want to know the shape and growth of British Literature, and quickly, or if you want to read something different then this book is a good starting point.