On the highway

Jonathan Coe

  • Desperadoes by Joseph O’Connor
    Flamingo, 426 pp, £14.99, March 1994, ISBN 0 00 224301 6
  • Resurrection Man by Eoin McNamee
    Picador, 233 pp, £14.99, March 1994, ISBN 0 330 33274 0
  • Stir-Fry by Emma Donoghue
    Hamish Hamilton, 232 pp, £9.99, January 1994, ISBN 0 241 13442 0

Young English novelists have a hard time of it these days. Not only must they work in the knowledge of an informed critical consensus which holds that their current productions are generally timid, moribund and insular; but to add insult to injury, they are confronted by the galling spectacle of mini-literary-Renaissances springing up all around them among their English-speaking neighbours, as supportive networks of publishers, small presses, magazines, young writers and editors foster the emergence of new and confident national literatures. No doubt this is, to some extent, an Englishman’s ingenuous view of things: but it does seem to me that the majority – the substantial majority – of interesting new writing coming out of these islands at the moment is either Scottish or Irish.

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