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The literature of twentieth-century Britain's final twenty years represents a crash course in transitional history. In the aftermath of the 1970s, the nation's hopes of becoming more efficient were high, leading to the fundamental domestic shake-up that was Margaret Thatcher's neoliberal revolution (1979–90). Following the end of the Cold War, Europe was undergoing radical rejuvenation, while the world as a whole began to thrive on new levels of connectivity and proximity brought through rapid advances in communication technology. Later, in the 1990s, Britons were asked to countenance not only internal devolution, but also the crystallisation of a brand-new European and global order. This volume shows how British literature recorded contemporaneous historical change. It traces the emergence and evolution of literary trends as well as enduring transitional shifts in genre, tone, style and thematic preoccupation.
Globalisation is commonly held responsible for eliminating cultural difference and replacing it with worldwide homogeneity, supposedly erasing Empire's core-periphery axiomatic of self and other while in actual fact perpetuating, and indeed considerably exacerbating, what looks suspiciously like the same old inequalities. As Chitra Sankaran asserts, ‘globalization, though it professes to homogenize the human condition, seems actually to polarize it in extreme ways’ (2006: 106). The increasing chasm between rich and poor that splits the world is rapidly being compounded by the establishment of westernised, allegedly ‘cosmopolitan’ Third World elites inside the ex-colonies themselves. As Arundhati Roy writes with regard to her own divided, caste-ridden nation, ‘the people of India have been […] loaded onto two convoys of trucks (a huge big one and a tiny little one) that have set off resolutely in opposite directions. The tiny convoy is on its way to a glittering destination somewhere near the top of the world. The other convoy just melts into the darkness and disappears’ (2001: 2–3).
Inspired by Peter Kalliney's question ‘whether or not globalization theory represents the logical next phase of postcolonial literary scholarship’ (2002: 52), the present chapter introduces connectivity and subalternity as key terms to problematise humanity's hitherto unprecedented glocal entanglement, the proximity and multicultural compression of peoples, which often clash with their actual segregation and the persistence of strictly policed rules of entitlement and exclusion.
Written in response to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York respectively, Ian McEwan's Black Dogs (1992) and Saturday (2005) both aim to capture the sensibility of a newly emergent Anglo-British contemporaneity. Read in combination, they disclose the bipolar bracketing of the 1990s by one joyous and one profoundly traumatic world event, a bracketing compounded by Britain's sandwiched position, both culturally and politically, between Europe and the USA. Transporting us from middle-English Wiltshire to contemporary and historical Germany, Poland and France, Black Dogs sets out to explore what is fundamentally a European sense of belonging. Yet notably it remains preoccupied with the continent's dark mid-century past rather than its post-1989 moment of euphoric reunification. Fashioned ultimately, after its main protagonist's name, into a jeremiad of political resignation, the novel accentuates the individual's as well as the family's vulnerability and helplessness in the face of world events.
Saturday, by contrast, follows the life of successful London neurosurgeon Henry Perowne on 15 February 2003, a day of worldwide rallying against the impending Iraq War. The novel culminates in the triumph of individual and familial agency over criminally deranged adversity. Its central conflict between the Perownes and petty gangster Baxter, a sufferer from Huntington's Chorea, mirrors the conflict between US America's Coalition of the Willing and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.