Something else

Jonathan Coe

  • In Black and White by Christopher Stevenson
    New Caxton Press, 32 pp, £1.95
  • The Tree of Life by Hugh Nissenson
    Carcanet, 159 pp, £6.95, September 1991, ISBN 0 85635 874 6
  • Cley by Carey Harrison
    Heinemann, 181 pp, £13.99, November 1991, ISBN 0 434 31368 8

The traditional self-contained, sensibly-proportioned novel, still very much the dominant influence on today’s literary scene, is called gently into question by each of these writers. Carey Harrison, with ostensibly the second (although in fact the first) volume of what looks set to become a monumental tetralogy, puts pressure on the boundaries of the form by insisting that it absorb a near-infinity of characters, events and incidental detail. Less ambitious, but more subversive, Christopher Stevenson and Hugh Nissenson seek to dismantle the system from within by producing novels which look like something else altogether: a form of experimentation which often has rather puritanical motives behind it – the assumption being either that existing literary forms have played themselves out or that it’s somehow possible to get closer to an uncorrupted version of the truth if the trappings of novelistic convention are done away with.

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