Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 December 2017
Where is the twenty-first-century British novel headed? The answer to this question depends on which contemporary novelists are taken into consideration, and this in turn depends on the view one takes of the contemporary British literary scene. Certainly it is very different from the scene described by David Lodge in 1971, when he pictured the British novelist at a crossroads, one choice being to continue within the realist tradition, and the other to further the modernist experiments of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Richardson. Lodge expected the British novel to follow one road or the other, but on re-examining the British novel in 1992, he found that the crossroads no longer existed. Its place had been taken by an ‘aesthetic supermarket’ where novelists could choose from a number of available options.
From this it is clear that an increasingly complex contemporary world has given rise to increasingly complex contemporary novels – novels that members of the reading public, as well as students in schools, colleges, polytechnics and universities around the world, often find daunting. Those who write about contemporary fiction are not always clear what they mean by key terms like ‘realism’, ‘postmodernism’, ‘postcolonialism’ and ‘globalisation’. The Contemporary British Novel Since 2000 seeks, like its predecessor, The Contemporary British Novel Since 1980, to define (or identify the problems involved in defining) these terms not only for students but also for teachers and interested members of the reading public. In addition, it reveals the extent to which the practice of eighteen leading British novelists embodies, exemplifies or modifies the theories that these terms represent.
The present collection of eighteen hitherto unpublished chapters examines the work of some of the leading British novelists of the past sixteen years. By virtue of winning major literary prizes, these novelists have become the most widely taught at educational institutions in Great Britain and elsewhere in the English-speaking world. They have also become the most widely bought by public libraries worldwide, and have thereby become known to members of the reading public wanting to keep up with ‘serious’ fiction.