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Contemporary Fiction: A Very Short…

Contemporary Fiction: A Very Short Introduction

by Robert Eaglestone

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This Very Short Introduction to Contemporary Fiction is a very interesting little book!

From the first words of the introduction to the last chapter about literary criticism, I found myself constantly nodding in agreement, with only an occasional demurral in between because I wasn’t keen on some of the books he lauds:

Literature thinks.

Literature is where ideas are investigated, lived out, explored in all their messy complexity. Sometimes these ideas look quite simple: What if you fell in love with someone who seems quite unsuitable for you? What happens if there is a traitor in your spy network? Sometimes they might appear more complicated: How can I reconstruct my memory of an event I can’t recall? Perhaps, too, ‘think’ is not the right word: ‘think’ is too limiting a description of the range of what a novel can do with ideas. In any event, the way literature thinks is bound up with what it’s like to be us, to be human. Literature is how we make ourselves intelligible to ourselves. And contemporary fiction matters because it is how we work out who we are now, today.

I believe the novel is the best way of doing this. Of all the arts, the novel is the most thoughtful, the closest, the most personal. Unlike the visual arts or music or computer games, the novel uses only language. Nearly every one of us is an expert user of language and, more importantly, nearly everyone is an expert creator in language. Every day we use words to express ourselves and to tell stories, to make patterns out of our reality. We all share and thrive in language: we are much more intimate with the novel’s medium than we are with theatre or film. Unlike much poetry or painting, fiction has narrative, sometimes in complex ways. We share this with the novel too, because each of us, in the stories we tell every day, is a skilled author and weaver of narrative. We can all judge a novel by the high and demanding standards of our own use of words and stories and by our own patterns of reality. Because it takes longer to read a novel than it does to see a film or listen to a piece of music and because novels demand more time and energy, they are more immersive. This is the origin of phrases like ‘losing yourself in a book’ or ‘the book speaks to me’ as if a novel was more than just ink on a page or words on a screen. We live in novels more than any other art form, and after reading them, they stay with us (an after-reading). The novel is still the art form most deeply and directly engaged with us. (p.1-2)

Eaglestone pays homage to the variety of forms that contemporary fiction can take, and he says that because a novel might go anywhere or do anything it’s not possible for anybody to be an expert in the usual sense of the word. He also admits that anything he says is going to be out-of-date within a decade.

His chapter headings show the directions he takes:

Chapter 1: Saying everything
Chapter 2: Form, or, what’s contemporary about contemporary fiction?
Chapter 3: Genre
Chapter 4: The past
Chapter 5: The present
Chapter 6: The future
Chapter 7: Conclusion: ‘Hey everyone, look at that beautiful thing’ / ‘Yes, but…’

I enjoyed the chapter on form, where Eaglestone acknowledges that contemporary authors make more demands on readers than authors of previous eras.

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2017/08/03/contemporary-fiction-a-very-short-introduction-by-robert-eaglestone/ ( )
  anzlitlovers | Aug 3, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0199609268, Paperback)

Contemporary fiction is a wide and diverse field, now global in dimension, with an enormous range of novels and writers that continues to grow at a fantastic speed.

In this Very Short Introduction, Robert Eaglestone provides a clear and engaging exploration of the major themes, patterns, and debates of contemporary fiction. From genre, form, and experimentalism to the legacies of modernism and postmodernism, the relationship between globalization and terrorism, and the impact of technology, Eaglestone examines how works both reflect the world in which we live and the artistic concerns of writers and readers alike.

About the Series:
Oxford's Very Short Introductions series offers concise and original introductions to a wide range of subjects--from Islam to Sociology, Politics to Classics, Literary Theory to History, and Archaeology to the Bible. Not simply a textbook of definitions, each volume in this series provides trenchant and provocative--yet always balanced and complete--discussions of the central issues in a given discipline or field. Every Very Short Introduction gives a readable evolution of the subject in question, demonstrating how the subject has developed and how it has influenced society. Eventually, the series will encompass every major academic discipline, offering all students an accessible and abundant reference library. Whatever the area of study that one deems important or appealing, whatever the topic that fascinates the general reader, the Very Short Introductions series has a handy and affordable guide that will likely prove indispensable.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:48 -0400)

In this Very short introduction Robert Eaglestone explores the major themes, patterns, and debates surrounding the contemporary novel. From genre, form, and experimentalism, to the relationship between globalization and terror, and the impact of technology, Eaglestone examines how contemporary fiction reflects both the world in which we live and the artistic concerns of writers and readers alike. -- Cover.… (more)

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