This review is from: Contemporary Fiction: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
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Contemporary fiction is quite a slippery subject, endlessly pushing the boundaries of structure and narrative as it attempts to find new ways of reflecting and examining themes, large and small, that shape the human condition. Good though it is on this tricky matter I suspect Professor Eaglestone's book will need rewriting in a couple of years, simply because authors will come up with new ways of telling stories or because new themes will emerge (such as the recent emergence of globalisation for example, or the internet) which completely alter the world in which we live. But then its endlessly evolving nature is one of the strands that makes contemporary fiction so interesting.
The two chapters that appealed to me especially were those on genre and the past. Genre is a tricky subject, the way we categorise works of fiction in part shapes how we interpret them when we read. Macbeth, for example, comes across very differently if we read it as a crime story (in which case our expectations would tell us that Macbeth himself could not have murdered Duncan because that's surely far too obvious) rather than as a great drama and exploration into the dark worlds of ambition and fate. Also consider Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go - mainstream intellectual novel or science fiction? Of course it is both, but attempting to bracket it as one or the other can narrow our expectations of what the novel is trying to do.
The past is also tricky. To what extent should a historical novel attempt to recreate the past in a realistic fashion? Would clunky ye olde Englishe detract from the reading experience? Similarly is it ever possible to write a 21st-century novel about Tudor England, for example, without examining the past through the lens of the present? How authentic can historical fiction ever be and, if it were to be 100% authentic would we then just have an impressive costume drama with no relevance to the modern world in which we live?
It's all thought provoking stuff, and Eaglestone chooses his examples with care (the analysis of Nicola Barker's Darkmans was especially informative) so, all in all, this is a fine introduction to a very elusive subject.