Beyond postmodernism: London fiction at the millennium

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis is concerned with an analysis of London fiction at the millennium (leading up to and beyond the year 2000). This study involves an exploration of texts that can in some way be regarded as occupying a space beyond postmodernism. It explores how a selection of contemporary London novels can be considered as "second-wave" or "post-postmodern" in light of their borrowing more from mainstream and classical genres as opposed to formally experimental avant-garde techniques. This investigation is conducted with a specific focus on the London author in order to investigate how novelists utilizes the cultural capital of London as a consistent metaphor in their texts as part of what can be read as an attempt to relocate the marginalized, subjugated or underrepresented character within the culturally dominant. The texts considered here are read in terms of post-postmodern discourse, critically evaluating how this selection of London writers at the millennium are appropriating and adapting mainstream writing styles and genres such as realism, the historical novel and the bildungsroman, as well as characterizations such as that of the heroic.

Key novels by Bernardine Evaristo, Mark Haddon, Nick Hornby, Hanif Kureishi, Andrea Levy, Gautam Malkani, Rupert Thomson, and Sarah Waters are considered in the thesis. The millennium provides an apt symbolic opportunity to reflect on British fiction and to consider the direction in which these contemporary authors are moving. As postmodernism has been such a dominant critical perspective throughout much of the twentieth century, it is in light of postmodemist challenges, disruptions and innovations to form that I analyses how texts can be read beyond a postmodem focus on form to instead consider how the writers engage with attempts to "open up" literature but do so with the use of mainstream styles.

Chapter One focuses on a discussion of millennial London fiction reimagining key moments from British history. In particular Evaristo Soul Tourists (2005), Levy's Small Island (2004) and Waters's The Night Watch (2006) are examined~ novels which in different ways embark upon a reengagement with history to offer a process of re-writing and readdressing absences within dominant accounts of the city's past. Michel Foucault's work on power and its relationships to knowledge, and discourse has a particular relevance to this discussion of the repositioning of the marginal.

Chapters Two and Three concentrate on millennial London writers' characterization in terms of the heroic monomyth as described by Joseph Campbell. In Chapter Two this takes the form of an analysis of the work of male writers writing male protagonists. By comparing the earlier novels of Kureishi and Thomson to their later work, along with an analysis of texts by Homby and Haddon, it is suggested that texts can be read in light of a move towards a reengagement with the heroic characterization. In Chapter Three the depictions of the heroine in contemporary London texts by Evaristo and Waters are addressed, demonstrating how the journey of the protagonists of Lara (1997) and Tipping the Velvet (2002) may be read in line with that of the heroic monomyth. This shift towards archetypal characterisation forms part of the positioning of these texts in light of a discussion of moving beyond postmodem perspectives.

Chapter Four provides a consideration of masculinity in Malkani' s Londonstani (2006) and Kureishi's Intimacy (1998). The focus of this chapter is a consideration of how these writers move away from decentred notions of self, and a discussion of this in relation to a post-postmodern reading. Such an approach provides an alternative to the much discussed postcolonial debate. The chapter charts how both postmodern and postcolonial perspectives inform readings of these texts, but notes how it is also possible to begin to approach them in a manner that moves beyond these entrenched fields of critical investigation.
Date of AwardMay 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
SupervisorPhilip Tew (Supervisor), Sonya Andermahr (Supervisor) & Lawrence Phillips (Supervisor)

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