First Semester: England, England (1998) by Julian Barnes (275 pages) England, England is a satirical, postmodern novel shortlisted

for the Booker Prize in 1998. England, England by Julian Barnes (Review by Ryan Roberts, © 1999) “That England, that was wont to conquer others, Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.” -- Richard II, II.i.40 “It‟s not a state-of-Britain novel. It‟s to do where Britain is in the longer spread of history. At least, that‟s what I think its going to be about.” -- Julian Barnes in a 1995 interview discussing his plans for his latest novel. Sir Jack is an eccentric tycoon in Julian Barnes‟s new novel England England, and he is also the enterprising force behind the construction of the “Project,” a theme park on the Isle of Wight which strives to contain all things “English.” Replicas of major tourist spots are concentrated in one convenient location on “The Island,” as it is soon known, creating a “sort of fast-forward version of England: one minute it was Big Ben, the next Anne Hathaway‟s cottage, then the White Cliffs of Dover, Wembley Stadium, Stonehenge, [the king‟s] Palace, and Sherwood Forest” (164). As the Project‟s growing success produces the steady decline of “Old England,” Sir Jack Pitman renames it England, England (179). England England is covered with Barnes‟s ironic, questioning fingerprints. Set in an undated future, the Island recreates British history and culture based on surveys and consumer polls, sometimes constructing history from mere myth in order to attract the public. The tycoon owner of family newspapers is caught in an unspeakable act reminiscent of a good Dan Kavanagh novel. Actors mistake fiction for reality as they begin to believe they are the historical characters they play. The Royal Family, exhausted by scandal, moves to the Island‟s replica of Buckingham Palace with promises of tax-exemption, no paparazzi, and a light work schedule further reduced by the hiring of look-alike actors to wave from the Palace windows. The success of this ironic, pseudo-England drains Old England of tourism and economic health, leaving behind a quasi-idyllic country renamed “Anglia.” “The longer spread of history” represented on the island of England, England is really just a collection of historical highlights, of false and true memories, of scenes or incidents which, when placed together, give off the impression of the nation‟s past. This view of history is found in much of Barnes‟s work. In Staring at the Sun, Jean Serjeant views her memories as a “series of magic lantern slides,” encapsulated “Incidents” within her life (5). The slides are similar to the cross channel ferry telescopes in Flaubert’s Parrot which clear and fade the view of the coastline depending on what perspective is taken. England, England picks up the theme of a pieced together history in the novel‟s opening metaphor (and the cover illustration) of a child‟s puzzle of England. The child is Martha Cochrane, and her story frames the novel, providing Barnes a chance to foreshadow the Project‟s scope and establish metaphors and themes, all to be commented on from Martha‟s more removed perspective at the end of the novel. Her answer to the question, “What‟s your first memory?” is “I don‟t remember” (3), so she lies about her first memory, claiming it was of sitting on the kitchen floor putting together a child‟s puzzle of England. “A

as well. Cynicism may tell us that all history is just “a memory of a memory of a memory. In this way. a newspaper column. it was . England” and details the Project‟s development and implementation. highlighting events or pieces of the Project‟s development which then appear to join together to provide one large picture. During the course of the novel‟s last section. Barnes presents the narrative England.” deals with Martha Cochrane‟s childhood memories and establishes the philosophy of history repeated in various forms throughout the novel. England. England is divided into three main sections. junior legal expert with an American electronics firm) often invents local myths and histories. that he is not like the Project‟s development team. The middle (and longest) section is titled “England. no one asks him to cite his source. When reporters (poorly disguised as hikers) come to Anglia. Anglia seems to have returned to a simpler time. The first. paved roads giving way to forests and villages. describes a local myth involving a woman‟s fall from a cliff. There are several subplots involving Martha. distant memories and false truths as England. Countless such examples of history‟s malleability are found on the Island. in one case. and perhaps history is this way. Individual sections sometimes adopt a unique style. through numerous short passages which reveal some aspect or background of the history of Sir Jack Pitman‟s great project and its major players. Together. Max. Sir Jack. but the book is far too rich for me to summarize). But can we live without it? “It was like a country remembering its history: the past was never just the past. stature. creating truths from myth. his concern with his character‟s sexual experiences. to fiefdoms and pastures. The final section “Anglia” is Martha‟s return to “Old England” which has declined in power. it was what made the present able to live with itself. his commentary on the state of post-imperial England. Paul (Sir Jack‟s “idea catcher”). and population as the Island‟s popularity grew. she states. Barnes is not fooled by the return of old England to an idyllic Anglia. hired as the Project‟s official cynic.memory was by definition not a thing. . He can still see the underlying falsehood of a nation‟s constructed history. The style reminds us that Barnes is in control of the story. nurturing the folksy view of Anglia. establishing a sense of fakery and copied truth which is carried throughout the novel and is seen most clearly in the Project. Many of the telescopes may focus on Barnes‟s intricate plot (much more happens in the novel than I‟ve touched on. based on just as many fuzzy. Dr. Barnes shows us that Anglia is just as fake. the Project‟s official historian. But these themes are just pieces of the novel. A memory now of a memory a bit earlier of a memory before that of a memory way back when” (3). the essence of what truly happened. We give ourselves over to him in full faith that what he says is true. named “England.” which includes “an engraved Certificate of Descent stamped with Sir Jack‟s signature and date” (119-123). When Dr. his portrayal of the Royal family.” Martha contemplates. no matter how many folk tales are culled in support of it. So where does this leave us? Perhaps that depends on which ferry telescope you choose to look through. a memory. “[E]ven if you recognized all this. a distant image in a foggy mist. such as a list or. varied and molded. grasped the impurity and corruption of the . Barnes embeds the puzzle metaphor at a structural level. our guide through events. local inhabitant Jez Harris (himself formerly Jack Oshinsky of Milwaukee. Max. . England. mirrors set in parallel” (6). each shifting the theme in a new. England. the “Island Breakfast Experience. Truth is less important than the need for an Island attraction. they constitute Barnes‟s primary theme of history. and a power struggle over control of the Island. but entirely believable way.

ideological beliefs and responses. . distilled Barnes writing with confidence and power. part of you. rather. all loosely connected. with unfounded confidence. protruded from amongst the leaves like a bulky marker. Byatt. Christabel LaMotte . S. or. an old-fashioned scholar. exceeding all hopes or expectations. Mitchell. They eat and sleep together in a low-keyed. tied in a neat bow. he soon discovers that the letters were sent to another poet. Along the path. it had been maltreated in its own time. (511 pages) Possession: A Romance is a 1990 bestselling novel by British writer A.memory system. Byatt writes: „„Roland had learned to see himself. It was bandaged about and about with dirty white tape. attachment between Ash and a woman not his wife. a feminist academic. Byatt. to be replaced by a discontinuous machinery and electrical message-network of various desires. If a connection exists between Ash and LaMotte. „„The book. falls in love with Maud Bailey. Its spine was missing.‟‟ Ms. S. you still. believed in that innocent. Ms. which he has secretly tucked into his wallet. It won the 1990 Booker Prize. when he (almost inadvertently) begins a mad. a famous Victorian poet and obvious stand-in for Robert Browning. Byatt is a gifted observer. Unearthing the Secret Lover by JAY PARINI As anyone who has read her previous novels. The pace of everything in Mitchell‟s life picks up. theoretically.‟‟ or her stories or her critical studies knows. including „„Shadow of a Sun. England is pure. able to discern the exact but minor details that bring whole worlds into being.‟‟ As it happens. the British writer A. and clearly affectionate.a postdoctoral research assistant at London University and the novel‟s hero of sorts . almost mournful way that neither especially likes. however.whose life is based on Christina Rossetti. out of this dusty old book pop two unsigned letters written in Ash‟s unmistakable hand. Possession (1990) by A. Its boards were bowed and creaking. but he cannot trust anything so out of date as a „„self‟‟ that falls in love. and what they call their „„relationship‟‟ is distinctly uninspired. which reveal a hitherto unknown. Mitchell will have stumbled onto a major discovery that could rescue his academic career as well as make a big dent in the field of Victorian poetry studies. An ingenious literary detective. intensely private search for the truth concerning the mysterious letters. rummaging through an old book that once belonged to the man he worships: Randolph Henry Ash. as a crossing-place for a number of systems. It is Roland Mitchell‟s total absorption in the world of Randolph Henry Ash that enables him to grasp at once the potential value of the letters. S.‟‟ The consequences of this highly improbable self-view are devastating. Thus begins an unlikely but dazzling quest for what literary critics and historians once. where Roland Mitchell . „„was thick and black and covered with dust. „„Possession‟‟ begins in 1986 in the Reading Room of the London Library. language-forms and hormones and pheromones. referred to as the Truth. Byatt writes. thing-you called memory” (6-7). He had been trained to see his idea of his „self‟ as an illusion. as it turns out. authentic thing--yes. Mitchell has been living in a damp basement flat in London with a feckless woman by the name of Val.

anyway. Wodehouse into a novel by David Lodge. Blackadder‟s archopponent is Mortimer Cropper. lives „„on the outskirts of Lincoln‟‟ and spends her time writing articles about „„liminality‟‟ in the poems of LaMotte.contains a Big Secret. In what becomes the most charming part of the story. for a moment. a heavyset lesbian from the United States who is possessed by LaMotte‟s romantic attachment to a woman called Blanche Glover. I won‟t be so churlish as to give away the end. are summoned with consummate wit and parodic skill.‟‟ Then. because „„Possession‟‟ is a tour de force that opens every narrative device of English fiction to inspection without. the novel intensifies. devilishly caricatured by Ms. who seems to have walked right out of the pages of P. Maud Bailey. poems and diaries from the 19th century. the leading LaMotte scholar. Byatt‟s canny invention of letters. The most dazzling aspect of „„Possession‟‟ is Ms. offering an ironic counterpoint to the contemporary story of Mitchell and Bailey. She quotes whole vast poems by Ash and LaMotte.Cropper suspects . that plays wittily with the convention of coincidence. as highly plausible versions of Browning and Rossetti and are beautiful poems on their own. G. A. divulged. ceasing to delight. The house. where LaMotte lived most of her life in seclusion. Cropper‟s greatest desire is to possess everything that once belonged to Ash. It‟s a supremely Dickensian one. several of which struck me. . All the interested parties converge in an archetypal Sussex churchyard on an archetypal dark and stormy night. S. Byatt as a cross between Leon Edel and Liberace. who (it so happens) is her distant ancestor. It so happens that Mitchell and Bailey are not the only scholars with a vested interest in the Ash-LaMotte story. Mitchell and Bailey steal away to a magnificent country house. There is Professor Leonora Stern. Sir George Bailey. as the narrative moves from Quest to Chase (as Mitchell himself puts it). not far from Lincoln. as it were. And the Big Secret is. And there is Professor James Blackadder . who both eventually do fall into something like „„love. and its current master. finally. an American scholar entrepreneur. but a plenitude of surprises awaits the reader of this gorgeously written novel. it seems less and less like the usual satire about academia and more like something by Jorge Luis Borges. Byatt is a writer in mid-career whose time has certainly come.a Dickensian figure who has been editing Ash‟s Complete Works in „„what was known as Blackadder‟s Ash Factory‟‟ since 1951 and is Mitchell‟s dour mentor. The painful and quintessentially Victorian love story of Ash and LaMotte is retold in their „„own‟‟ words. including a metal box buried in the poet‟s grave that .Dr. As „„Possession‟‟ progresses.

relating the vanities of those who manage to make their way in the world and the travails of those who don‟t. and most of the letters don‟t make it through the post. and Madame looks after her with Eula Too‟s help. You get a feel for the outline of the story here early on. then married young to an abusive husband. Though Celie and Nettie are apart for most of the book. In the lean years of the Depression. addressing numerous issues including their exceedingly low position in American social culture.[1][a] It was later adapted into a film and musical of the same name. . Celie was sexually abused by her father. sets out for Chicago. There are all kinds of people living on Dream Street. and their children move farther north with each generation until they reach Illinois. beaten. The Color Purple is a 1982 epistolary novel by American author Alice Walker that won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction. in the late 19th century. She‟s rescued by a high-class bawd named Madame LaFon and given a job and a place to live in Madame‟s Chicago brothel. It‟s an intellectual feelgood book. Madame grows to love Eula Too and provides her with a good education. had two children by him. their sisterly bond keeps them going through extremely painful circumstances. when the narrator tells you that her tale is about the good people who live in a neighborhood called Dream Street in a town called Place. Among the latter are some of the descendants of an ex-slave named Eula. The novel has been the frequent target of censors and appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2000-2009 at number seventeen because of the sometimes explicit content. Madame grew up in the woebegone little town of Place. the story focuses on female black life in the 1930s in the southern United States. This novel documents her life over about 40 years. Her dying mother lives there still. and left for dead along the way. both of whom (like Eula Too) had to struggle against great odds to get there. She befriends a woman with whom her husband had a years-long affair and develops an intimate relationship with her that teaches her more about herself and how she can learn to deal with her circumstances.Second Semester: The Colour Purple (1982) by Alice Walker (288 pages). During this time. who. Her children work as sharecroppers at first. particularly in terms of violence This book is made up of letters written by a young black girl named Celie and her sister. Eula‟s granddaughter. Taking place mostly in rural Georgia. Nettie. including the Chinese immigrant Ha and the Jewish refugee Maureen Iris. but she‟s raped. I believe Alice Walker wrote this book as an example of one person‟s individual journey to come to terms with a racist and sexist world. manages to leave the South and make her way north to Oklahoma. Eula Too. Celie‟s sister Nettie joins with a missionary family and travels to Africa. Some People Some Other Place (2004) by Joan California Cooper (384 pages) Review A third novel from playwright and storywriter Cooper follows five generations of AfricanAmericans from the Deep South of the Civil War to a Chicago suburb in the 20th century. in a dreary little house on Dream Street. The narrator herself speaks in a tone that falls somewhere between Diogenes and Ecclesiastes.

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