Looking back

John Sutherland

  • Metroland by Julian Barnes
    Cape, 176 pp, £4.95, March 1980, ISBN 0 224 01762 4
  • The Bleeding Heart by Marilyn French
    Deutsch, 412 pp, £6.50, May 1980, ISBN 0 233 97234 X
  • Creator by Jeremy Leven
    Hutchinson, 544 pp, £6.95, April 1980, ISBN 0 09 141250 1

The Victorian practice of antedating is enjoying a revival with contemporary English novelists. Every so often, it would seem, fiction becomes broody, retrospective, and responsive to Kierkegaard’s maxim that life is lived forwards but understood backwards. Different novelists, however, look back in different moods and at different primal events and seedtimes. For William Golding (Darkness Visible) the focus was the Blitz and the Second World War, which secreted the modern age’s poison as a bee secretes honey. In Angus Wilson’s latest work (Setting the World on Fire) the narrative hinges on the crucial Suez-Hungary year, 1956-57. Malcolm Bradbury – though he as yet has written no novel on the theme – has expounded at length his agreement that 1956 is the year in which Trillingesque liberal humanism went under to the new barbarism. A.S. Byatt (The Virgin in the Garden) found a slightly earlier epicentre in the Coronation year, 1953. David Lodge’s new novel (How far can you go?) charts Catholic perplexity in the face of the permissive Sixties, Humanae Vitae and the abolition of National Service.

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